I had the privilege of meeting eight young teachers over the weekend. They were all "winners" of the "Freddie G" (OK, I humbly admit it's the "me" award that others long suggested and interfaces nicely with my philanthropic aims). The winners were selected (no, not by me) out of a large group of teachers who participated in the annual Junior Music Festival in Atlanta earlier this year.
The idea was to give exceptional teachers, who elect, in addition to their traditional teaching responsibilities, to teach their students music and theater, an authentic insiders' views of "Broadway." They weren't in Kansas (or in this case Georgia, Texas, Maine, Pennsylvania or Illinois) anymore, as they found themselves sitting next to Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenowith, and also being hosted by Jean-Claude Baker (at Chez Josephine, the bistro named for his legendary mother). They were officially welcomed by the outrageous Marilyn Sokol with bawdy, yet compassionate, tales of Broadway, including her coaching comedy to Kim Cattrall during the run of Sex and the City.
Dinner was just the beginning. Then, they had creative interactive experiential sessions with some of Broadway's most creative people, saw the first time "reading" by students of Singing in the Rain Junior (soon to be offered to schools to perform ), went backstage at Promises, Promises and Mary Poppins for insider tours, and were embraced and immersed in Broadway as colleagues.
It was a learning experience for all of us, and I studied non-stop.
So, I'd like to thank:
The teachers for showing me what passion really is and demonstrating that their students are in great hands.
Jeff Calhoun of Deaf West's Big River and whose credits include the first direction of High School Musical, which not only revolutionized what people think about students who appear in high school musicals (before Glee, remember), but who intimately shared a dream. Jeff has been nominated for a Tony (but hasn't won). (Don't worry, Jeff. You will.) He said he wanted nothing more than to give the thank you speech at the Tonys -- solely to thank his parents and the two teachers who nurtured and guided him to follow his dream.
Marc Shaiman, a legendary film scorer and writer for many stars like Bette Midler, also is a Tony winner for his music from Hairspray. Marc taught the teachers (and me) what an "arts free zone" is. He was raised without any outlet for any creative instinct (Footloose, anyone?). Marc's "teachers" were two local women who ran a theater camp and put on "little shows" for the town. These teachers and his parents saw his passion and encouraged him -- at age 16 -- to move to New York to follow his heart and pursue his musical. (and it took him almost two decades of trial, error, luck, resilience and fortitude to get to Hairspray and The Tonys).
Baayork Lee, another guest speaker, who first appeared as the youngest child of Yul Brynner in The King and I beginning in 1951, and, as a young adult found that "4'10" Asian dancers were essentially unemployable." The future "Connie" in A Chorus Line, and keeper of the Michael Bennett legacy for decades, taught us some of the most innovative job techniques ever.
I'd like our Department of Education to cast these teachers, the U.S. Department of Labor to consult with Baayork and everyone to listen to Jeff, Marc, Scott Wittman, Ken Billington and many others who are the core of Broadway who have turned dedication and passion into success.
As Broadway looks forward to the return of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, I'm celebrating those who succeed in theater and elsewhere by really trying and. Like these teachers, they don't give up or stop.