How to ensure Broadway’s future audiences and actors.

My high school didn’t have a football team.  And when I tell people that, they’re shocked.  “How could you not have a football team?”  Well, we just didn’t.  And because I didn’t know any different, it didn’t bother me.

Now, would you be surprised to hear that I didn’t watch this year’s Super Bowl?  Truth is, I didn’t even know who was playing.


Not on your pigskin.

The other day I was chatting with someone on a plane, and we started talking about theater and how I got started and the subject of high school musicals came up.  I asked my new found friend what his high school did for their musical his senior year.  “Oh, we didn’t do one.”


It didn’t make sense to me.  Surely every high school has a musical, right?  RIGHT?

Not on your tap shoes.

Just look at this quote I found on a message board while researching this blog:

I go to a small Catholic high school and I REALLY want to do a musical this year(it being my senior year). We only have 200 people in the entire school and not a lot of people are into musicals.

I don’t have a stat for you on exactly how many high schools in the country produce a musical every year, but as surprising as it may be to hear (because I’m sure all of you did have one), not every one does.

And they should.

Because just like I didn’t watch the Super Bowl, my airline buddy didn’t even know what a Tony Award was, never mind tune in.

Participation is key to building tomorrow’s audience.  And without opportunities to participate, well, our audience does exactly what it has done for the last decade or so . . . remain flat.

What to do?

Well, you know all those Bad News Bearsy type-movies where a down-and-out coach goes into a school and starts a baseball team or a football team where there was none before?  Well, the same thing needs to happen (in real life) for high school musicals.  Enterprising musical lovers (yes, that means you) need to take it upon themselves to make sure their local schools are producing shows every year.  And hey, if there’s a charity that does this already, or if someone wants to start one, I’ll be your first donor.

Everyone doesn’t have to be involved with a high school musical.  But everyone should have the option to.

Because those that do, are much more likely to end up being those that buy tickets, invest, donate, or better, create.

And that’s, what I think they call, a touchdown.


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  • Ray DeJohn says:


    You would do well to start paying some attention to next year’s Super Bowl, regardless of the teams playing. Broadway will be shut down from 34th to 44th for NFL events. That could bring a lot of “unexpected” traffic to the theater. Marketing to this lot could produce quite the win/win.

  • Eric Vigdorov says:


    After only recently coming across your blog, I have to agree with your words of wisdom and great posts. I too went to a high school that did not have a football team, but we did have a strong arts program. I think it is very important to keep improving and pushing the arts to children today. I enjoyed performing in shows, and wish I learned even more younger on about the process of producing the shows. Being an arts lover early on had lead me a nice path in my life and I am excited to keep perusing my producing dreams with an MFA in Theater Management at Brooklyn College. Maybe one day we will cross paths. But I really think a charity for more theater and arts programs would befit future audience and progress Art forward.

  • Andrea Bachinski says:


    Thought you’d like to know that a DC-area theatre takes this idea a step further. Round House Theatre has a program called the Sarah Play where local high school students direct, design, stage manage, and perform a show each year. Round House foots the bill and pulls in professional artists and RHT staff to mentor the students and the show is presented in their black box theatre as part of the season. It’s pretty neat and many of the students grow through the program starting as actors, moving on to design, and some even direct in their junior or senior year.

  • Vinny Iaropoli says:

    Hi Ken:

    Thank you very much for posting this. Having the opportunity to PARTICIPATE in theater is vitally important — not only for growing audiences tomorrow but also for engaging audiences (and potential participants and supporters) today.

    I just moved to Northeast Florida — and while many schools here do put on a big musical once (or even twice!) a year — community theaters are few and far between. And while I believe that high school theater is important — I think that community theater fills a (somewhat more?) important role. The community theater experience does a better job of encouraging participation at all levels because there are fewer barriers to entry — you don’t have to be a student to join in.

    Community theater is important because it can be a path to more professional forms of theater — for both participants and audiences. I think if we can provide real opportunities to grow and support creativity within our communities it will in turn, provide real opportunities to grow and support the arts (and specifically theater)overall.

  • Ken,

    I couldn’t agree more! That’s why I volunteer with my high school’s musical program, and lobby school board members to make sure that funding remains in place. Fortunately, even though the district is really small, the arts education programs are pretty robust. I know I wouldn’t be working in theater now if it hadn’t been for the musicals I did in high school!


  • Sean says:

    I always think of this…

    Which is more powerful?

    “Mommy-Mommy, I’m gonna see Cinderella!”


    “Mommy-Mommy, I’m gonna BE Cinderella!”

  • I think that would be a terrific organization!
    I’d love to be a part of some nation-wide program to help every community/school produce some sort of theatrical production. It would be QUITE an undertaking…but it would be well worth the effort. If you find out about such an organization, or decide to start one…I’m in!

  • Ken, I had a theater background and was very involved in our high school musicals. I am happy to report that my alma mater, Muskogee High School in Muskogee, Oklahoma is STILL producing musicals and my sister-in-law is the drama teacher there now. They are about to mount Guys and Dolls. I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico and although schools are still doing musicals, the number of African American students involved is dismal–so I started an organization called Rainbow Studio Theater and we started producing new works and reviving established works to start training our young people in theater, music and dance. Just last week we were the first local African American company to produce a show at the largest roadhouse in the state–1900 seats and we sold out two performances – one school time performance and a public performance of our new work called Roots Revival. The company is multigenerational with age ranges from 5 to 65. Talking about building new audiences, we are doing it–at great expense and great personal cost….so if you want to donate. I’ll message you my information. And thank you for your pearls of wisdom.

  • Sue says:

    I attended Wayland High School in Wayland, Mass. (Go Red Sox!!) And was fortunate enough to participate in an awesome Drama Club, with annual straight plays, grade-level one-act judged play competitions, participation in States (we made it to finals in Boston frequently), a talent show for h.s. seniors and of course, the spring musical. Wayland has a strong parents group called CAPA (Creative Arts Parent Organization). When I was there years ago, CAPA not only donated and held our high school arts awards annual banquet, they led the way for us “drammies” to earn high school varsity jackets based on participation. It’s not only the jocks who wear school jackets in Wayland!
    Not only that – our old drama coach is still directing youth plays in Florida at the age of nearly 80. And all us old drammies are friends with her on facebook. It’s wonderful!!

  • Paul Argentini says:

    Perspicacious Ken:
    You are spot on. The Catholic Church says, “Give me your child for the first five years and we’ll have a Catholic for life.” Religion has nothing to do with it; methodology does. Get the kindergartens going and Oscar winners are in the offing. Buying theatre tickets, too. The gifted director, Bob Boland, and I did the best we could for boosting theatre in schools, colleges, communities by writing a book, “MUSICALS! Directing School and Community Theatre.” Whenever I heard an English teacher say, “I’m supposed to direct the graduation musical and I have no idea how to do it,” I would send them a copy of our book. I wish we could get one into every library. Published by Scarecrow Press it’s been out for 13 years and still going strong. Boost from the foundation and we’ll have lasting theatre.

  • Donald says:


    I grew up in a fairly ritzy town in New Jersey. There were a number of Broadway and TV stars that lived in the town. The high school didn’t do a musical; they always did a musical review. My mom, who was elected to the school board, looked into this and discovered that the excuse was that the school considered the performance rights to be prohibitively expensive. We were within 50 miles of NYC and had an 800 seat theater. Two strikes against us right there.

    But by doing a review, it was far cheaper because the school could have an English teacher could fashion a story around a group of songs from the public domain along with a smattering of more contemporary songs that were performed from their choral arrangements, which had much cheaper rights.

    Interestingly, one of my classmates that I shared the stage with was a kid named Joe DiPietro (I still have the program). Maybe you’ve heard of him? And Joe has had some success in the area of stringing together some songs as well as writing his own material.

    My point is that IT DOESN’T EVEN NEED TO BE A WHOLE SHOW. You can expose kids to the vocabulary of Broadway and the thrill of live performance without having to stage a full production.

  • Erin G says:

    I’m lovin’ this comments! More! More! 🙂

  • Lauren Yarger says:

    So true, Ken. My ELELENTARY school did an annual spring musical. In second grade I was one of the Siamese children in the King & I. Fell in love with the show, Deborah Kerr and Rodgers & Hammerstein and immediately wanted to see every other musical they ever had written. That show gave birth to a love of musical theater and now, many, many years later, I review Broadway. One definitely led to the other. Thank you Berkeley Terrace School in Irvington, NJ!

  • Shannon D. says:

    Hi Ken,

    I grew up in a tiny town, not even a town, a borough, in Central Jersey. Our entire high school had a total of 400 students. The only theatre-related thing I remember is during my freshman year (1991-1992) they did a production of “Ducktails and Bobbysocks” and I remember thinking “What in the world is that?”
    Now knowing that getting the rights to do a “known” show is extremely costly, I understand the unknown production. However, that was it… we did have a band and chorus though, but I didn’t have the “talent” for that.
    I wish we had some sort of outside funding for the arts so we could have had more productions and then I could have fallen in love with theatre a lot sooner and maybe even gone into the business.

  • Ken, you have really hit the stage nail on the head. We are trying to help kids all across the country tap into the magic of theatre not only for its own sake–we know the actors, writers, producers and audiences of the future are in our schools now–but because this kind of thing really helps all of us be better citizens and lead better lives. We are working with 19 regional theatres that serve over 500,000 kids and we would love to hear stories of how theatre in school affected the life of anyone–an actor, a mother, a temp, a successful entrepreneur. We know you’re out there, and we want to share stories like these. Because if people don’t hear them, it’s very easy for decision makers to leave all this behind, and then where would we be? Thanks, Ken, for all you do for our industry.

  • Cheryl M. Palmour says:

    There was no theatre department at my high school. We did the one-act play competition every year and that was it. Fortunately, someone in my hometown saw the light and incorporated theatre into the curriculum. Now they do musicals every year. I am the artistic director at a community theatre in Columbus, GA. We would love to do musicals, but they are too expensive for us at the present time. I am hoping to do a musical during the next season. We works with lots of children and teens, most of whom have never done a musical. Would you be interested in helping to sponsor one for us?


  • Jennifer Jenkins says:


    In addition to my HS producing theatre, my (Long Island suburb) church youth choir produced theatre. I was 4 when I saw their production of “Annie Get Your Gun.” I can tell you what the set/costumes and choreography was like. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to be IN one of those musicals. Finally, at 15 I was a Lady-in-waiting in “Once Upon a Mattress.” When I heard that Carol Burnett oriniginated the role, I wanted to send her tickets to see our show – I didn’t realize that there were hundreds of other school groups doing productions too.(Ah, youthful naiveté!) Our choir director/church supporters made us feel unique, special and worthy of attention.

    I am fortunate enough to have worked at an Atlanta area two year college for over 30 years. We produce theatre with support of the Atlanta professional & community theatre people. We are lucky to be experiencing an explosion of Theatre Majors. Will they all ‘make it’ with a career in theatre? No. Will they all be productive, dependable, committed, compassionate employees/professionals? YES and, will they be theatre partons/supporters for life? That’s my goal!

    One of my retirement ‘jobs’ I’ve thought about pursuing is finding ways to support the local county high schools to produce theatre. I think the school board’s sentiment is that since they have a performing arts HS, the rest of the schools don’t need theatre programs. Yet they have science and math at all the schools event though there is a science/math magnet school….hmmmmm?!!?!

    WOW! didn’t mean to go on and on but this post resonated with me!

  • Zanne says:

    Excellent correlation! Much food for thought. Bravo Ken!

  • Billy-Christopher Maupin says:

    My high school did a “Senior Play” every year. No musicals. And only the seniors could be in the play.

    Heck, maybe I’d be on Broadway if we’d had a music every year! 🙂

  • AmyKB says:

    my HS didn’t have a football team OR a drama program (we were a music demonstration school, though). This made it very easy for me to win the “drama scholarship” when I graduated (the county had each school give a scholarship in each subject), as I was the only one to apply, with credits from church pageants and one community production. (I was a laughingstock at the county level for a larger scholarship, but that’s another story.) It’s an entirely different world from doing musicals in elementary schools, which is what I do now!

  • In this football crazed town in Birmingham, Alabama we are fortunate to have high school productions that rival some regional theatre companies. The Virginia Samford Theatre’s STARS program or Students Take A Role At the Samford is producing your revised GODSPELL this week with two casts featuring students from ten different schools. The kids love the competition between the two casts just like the annual rivalry between the University of Alabama (Roll Tide) and Auburn University (War Eagle)

  • Nathalie says:


    I teach high school theatre. In Los Angeles. I teach in a public, title I high school on the west side of LA, right next to Santa Monica. We are an island of poverty in a sea of riches. The rich movie/TV moguls in the area are afraid to send their children to public high school. A very good, multi-ethnic typical, boring high school, by the way.

    I was hired 2 years ago to re-create and develop a theatre program. I’ve tried to do a fall play and spring musical for my 2 and half years at this school. The district lays me off every year. The school somehow scrapes money together to hire me back. There is no support for theatre arts in our school. Not from our school district and the school just doesn’t have the money. I can create theatre in a closet with a flashlight, but schools want more than that. No funds for productions though. Not at our school. I work very hard to do everything I can to give my theatre students the chances to perform and do tech. It’s very difficult as one person.

    Our spring musical last year was GODSPELL. You sent a form letter to my little high school cast wishing them luck. That’s how I first heard your name Ken. A small gesture on your part made my babies feel like they were professionals opening on Broadway. Thank you for that. It was a great show. But not seen by nearly enough people. Not enough marketing.

    Last school year, in desperation, I entered us into the “SMASH”Make A Musical initiative. A contest/program, sponsored by iTheatrics and NBC, to help build and grow musical theatre programs in schools across the country. Oddly, but with an enormous mount of work, our tiny little program won the on-line contest with the most votes nationally. In addition, one of my students (a 15 year old) ended up at the 2012 Jimmys. Then, I was laid off.

    No theatre of any kind was left at the school. This year, it was only after 1) the students produced, directed, and performed their own fall play (no budget of any kind; I was so proud); and 2) the music director begged, pleaded, scraped, and worked for 6 months, could money be found to bring me back to direct the “SMASH” project that we won. And I will be laid off again this June.

    So, if anyone out there really does want to help a school do/build/continue theatre……I volunteer mine. We have many students desperate to act, sing, and dance. We have diamonds of talent just waiting to be polished. It is very difficult without funding!

    Thanks for listening to someone in the trenches!

    Nathalie Cunningham

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