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A Place They'd Never Seen: The Theater

Susan Notes: Wendy Wasserstein, a Pulitzer Prize playright, did a remarkable thing: she made a difference in the life of eight high schoolers. How many people who orate about the schools can say the same?

by Wendy Wasserstein

I am certain that I became a playright because every Saturday my parents picked me up from the June Taylor School of Dance and brought me to a Broadway matinee. Of course, at the time I had no idea that I would even remotely have a life in the theater. No adult said to me, "Oh, Wendy, darling, don't become a doctor, a lawyer, or a certified public accountant. Please do us a favor and consider the not-for-profit theater." But watching those plays while I was still in high school first put into my mind the idea that the work you grew up to do didn't have to be entirely separate from your real interests. . . .

While I was on a recent trip to Congress to lobby for the arts, a senator asked if I was serious that theater was as important as health and education. I was tempted to say, "Yes, let them eat plays!" But instead I hatched an idea to personally bring New York high school students into the theater. . . .

"You get me eight smart high school students from the New York City public school system and Roy and I will take them to plays for a year," I proposed. . . .Roy and I mapped out a more precise academic plan. We would see seven matinees: a potpouri of Broadway, off-Broadway, musicals, and straight drama. After each, we would go out for pizza and talk about the show. The students would be selected based on an essay about why the project interested them. Those chosen would keep a yearlong journal, for which they would receive high school credit. . . .

Kimberly Ebanks summed up our program in a speech before New York City high school teachers: "Seeing plays has changed me from a student who believed that in order to be successful in life I had to excel only in math and science. Life isn't only about math and science. It's about hypocrisy, prejudice, love, joy, compromise, hate, and conflict. These are things that are not only found in life but in theater itself."

— Wendy Wasserstein
Shiksa Goddess (Or. How I Spent My Forties)


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