This year the LEAP OnStage program was once again a huge success. The goals were not only met, but exceeded LEAP’s expectations. Over 500 plays were written in the course of the program. Students at all ten schools met with broadway luminaries who shared their personal and professional journey, inspired them to develop and express their voices as budding artists, and opened their eyes to the educational and professional opportunties available to them in the world of theatre. As a result of this program, many students have pursued careers as writers, actors, or other theatre professionals through internships or by attending institutions of higher education such as the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Stella Adler Studio of Acting, and Brooklyn College theatre program. Through the program, students were able to express themselves and find their voice, their writing, strengthen their self-confidence, develop as future audiences, and foster a lifelong love of theatre. Students learned to communicate, build relationships, and grow.
LEAP OnStage, a comprehensive theatre-arts education program, allows inner-city students who would not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in a high-quality, comprehensive arts education program. This year, LEAP OnStage served approximately 550 students ages 12-19 attending underserved New York City public junior and senior high schools. Students were selected between July and September 2014 based on their Title I status, emphasis on theatre and performing arts, and commitment from the administration of each school. Two English or theatre classes per school (approximately 25-30 students per class) participated in the program this year.
Description of Activities
The program consisted of the following elements:
In September, LEAP conducted an orientation for all participating teachers, coordinators, teaching artists, and supervisors to review all elements of the program, the curriculum, and the responsibilities of the participants.
Students worked with LEAP theatre artists from September through February to read short plays, learn about the playwriting process and write 10-minute plays. Lessons included theme, plot, character analysis, dialogue, scene, mood, and setting. The sessions included improvisation and other hands-on theatre activities. One play from each school was then selected for full production on a professional stage and publication by Samuel French, Inc., while three to five other plays were selected to be performed in each school.
- Emerging Playwright Achievement Award
Every year, the Emerging Playwright Achievement Award is presented to a student who showed exceptional interest in and commitment to playwriting. Last year, two students from the South Bronx received the honor for writing and co-writing additional plays, and submitting their plays to other competitions.
In March and April, a professional dramaturg worked with each student whose plays were selected for performance on a professional stage to refine their plays before they were produced and performed.
This two-part event, hosted by Samuel French Publishers, was held to recognize the achievement of the students. It consisted of two parts:
1. The authors of the ten selected plays met with celebrated playwright, Crystal Skillman, to discuss the challenges and rewards of playwriting, and share her insight and experience with the students.
2. Representatives from Samuel French, Inc. showed the students how to copyright their plays, register with the Library of Congress, submit their plays to other competitions and festivals, and discussed courses of study in theatre arts at colleges and universities.
- Casting and Play Production
In March and April, LEAP conducted a series of professional casting sessions at each school, followed by 15 play production sessions. Students, working with a LEAP theatre artist and an artistic director, learned acting, blocking, directing, and stage management skills, while preparing their plays for performance.
Well-known playwrights, actors, directors, set and costume designers, composers, and choreographers met with students from each school, sharing their personal and professional experiences, and inspiring the students to continue their passion for theatre, careers in theatre and higher education. Artists include Neil Pepe, Jerry Zachs, Margaret Colin, David Auburn, Kathleen Marshall, Tom McGowan, Judine Somerville, and David Henry Hwang. Some guest artists acted as mentors for students, inviting them to Broadway shows and taking them backstage to see the behind-the-scenes workings of the theater. These visits gave students a substantive glimpse into the life of a working theatre professional.
Three to five plays were performed at each school as staged readings, full productions, or a combination of the two. The LEAP theatre artists, in collaboration with the classroom teacher, performed students for these performances. Students, teachers and administrators, parents, representatives from the Department of Education, and the local communities attended these performances.
As part of this event, the casts of the ten selected plays performed for a panel of esteemed theatre professionals who acted as advisors, giving feedback and guidance. In addition, the playwright, cast, and crew from all ten schools came together for a day of workshops in dance and acting led by professional theatre actors and directors.
Two Artistic Directors, Michael Bush and Terry Berliner worked closely with the cast and theatre teacher artists of each school to prepare their plays for the finale performance. They directed each night at the finale.
On June 10th and 11th, the 10 selected plays were performed by the students in a showcase event at the Pearl Theatre, hosted by an established Broadway professional. The event also featured a video focusing on the 10 winning playwrights showing their journey.
The 10 selected plays were published by Samuel French, Inc., the premier publisher of dramatic writing. This meant that the student-authors can add “published playwright” to their college applications and resumes.
Support from the Broadway Community
Since its inception, the Broadway community has been a strong supporter of LEAP OnStage. Many Tony Award-winning or -nominated guest artists have generously contributed their time to meet with students, including David Henry Hwang (playwright, winner, Best Play, M. Butterfly); William Ivey Long (costume designer, winner of five Tony Awards and 11-time Tony nominee); Kathleen Marshall (choreographer and director, winner, Best Choreography and nominated, Best Direction of a Musical, Anything Goes); Liev Schreiber (actor, winner, Best Featured Actor in a Play, Glengarry Glen Ross); Charles Strouse (composer, winner, Best Original Score, Bye Bye Birdie and Annie); and Jerry Zaks (director, winner, Best Direction of a Musical, Guys and Dolls) to name a few.
Of the students served, 40% are Hispanic, 37% Black, 13% Asian, 9.5% White, and .5% belonged to other ethnic groups. Additionally, 98% attend Title I-eligible schools, 83.2% live below the poverty line, more than 50% come from single-parent families, and almost 70% test below grade level in reading and math.
More Program Successes
From 2012-2015, over 90% of participating students completed their 10-minute plays. 100% of students who participated in LEAP OnStage reported increased pride in their work and themselves, and 100% reported an enhanced ability to work with others. Additionally, one student who participated in LEAP OnStage went on to write 15 new, full-length plays, while others are studying in professional theatre programs, such as the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. Students who participate in the program have higher graduation and college attendance rates than their peers. For example, at one school where the program took place, the graduation rate for the school as a whole was 71%, but 100% of LEAP OnStage students graduated on time. At Hillcrest High School in Queens, 50% of seniors attended college within six months of graduation, whereas 100% of LEAP seniors attended college.
The project was overseen by LEAP Associate Executive Director and Project Director Alice Krieger. Since its inception, Ms. Krieger has successfully directed the project. As a founder and Co-Executive Director of LEAP, she has created and directed a vast array of arts education programs for underserved youth. Karen Sonet-Rosenthal served as a liason between the Broadway community and the schools, arranging for guest artist visits to schools. Two Artistic Directors – established professionals from the theatre community – were each responsible for guiding five of the 10 schools through the creative process, directing, and producing the plays at the Pearl Theare, and a team of LEAP’s talented theatre artists worked with students on a weekly basis, helping them develop their writing, performing, and academic skills.
Quotations from students and teachers who participated in LEAP OnStage:
“LEAP gave me a chance to take a few steps into the writing world, which I realize now is a world I really want to be a part of. It gave my friend a chance to finally show her talent as an actress in a professional environment. LEAP is handing so many young adults opportunities that I know people would fight and make sacrifices for outside of this setting. And the plays I saw during last year’s performance proved that these opportunities were not given in vain. For me personally, LEAP gave me a chance to be heard, which I think is something every teenager wants. It also gave me the assurance that I am capable of producing works good enough for the stage and good enough for myself.”- Student
“The program teaches the students that their voices are as important as anyone’s. They learn that regardless of their background, they belong to something greater than themselves.” – Classroom teacher
"I learned how to create a scene out of darkness, a person out of words, and a lifetime of success" – Student
"We have to have programs like this that encourage kids to talk about what they know and what they're going through. It's crucial."- Marsha Norma, Playwright
All ten schools will provide graduation rates, college attendance rates, and standardized English Language Arts test scores for participating and non-participating students for comparison at the program's conclusion. In addition, all participating students are required to complete a standardized LEAP OnStage Student Survey containing a wide array of questions about their experiences with the program and their intentions to continue with playwriting, acting, and theatre arts. Teachers complete a standardized LEAP Residency Evaluation Form. This form asked them to rate the program in a variety of categories, including skills gained by students, the overall program, and the quality of the LEAP theatre artist. Also, LEAP theater artists and classroom teachers will fill out a LEAP Student/Teacher Rubric Report that will document the number of students able to demonstrate proficiency with theater art skills, academic knowledge, and social skills – such as increased pride in their work – associated with the program.
LEAP OnStage has met all of its goals. This program has allowed 550 underserved New York City students to develop and express their artistic voices and, improve their chances for academic success, and nurture a lifelong passion and appreciation for theatre.
 Title I schools have large concentrations of low-income students and receive supplemental funding from the federal government to meet these students’ needs.
 These demographic statistics were compiled based on data from one school in each public school district LEAP worked in during the 2011-2012 school year.