Broadway's biggest night—the Tony Awards—puts the American Theatre Wing in the spotlight. The Tonys are, after all, named after Antoinette Perry, who co-founded the Wing. But the organization celebrates not just the best of Broadway, but also the potential and promise of a younger generation through a variety of education programming.
“The Wing is really all about the pipeline,” explains President and CEO Heather A. Hitchens. “Making sure we create a pipeline to the future and ensuring that that pipeline has diverse voices in it as well.” The commitment to the pipeline mentality dates back to the Wing’s origins as an activist organization, founded by a group of suffragettes in 1917 as the Stage Women’s War Relief on the cusp of World War I.
Here are just some of the programs and initiatives the American Theatre Wing spearheads, catering to students a various ages and degrees of exposure to theatre.
Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative
In order to promote diversity, equity, and access to the arts, the Wing partnered with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (around the time his musical School of Rock landed on Broadway) to establish the Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative.
“It’s to address the lack of arts education—the lack of equity in terms of arts education that’s been ripped out of the schools,” says Hitchens. “And so it’s to help diversify behind the scenes and on the stage.”
In two years, the Initiative has awarded over one million dollars in Classroom Resource Grants for theatre instruction in under-resourced K-12 schools, Training Scholarships that allow middle and high school students to attend high-quality after school and summer theatre training programs, and four-year University Scholarships that make it possible for talented students to pursue degrees in theatre. So far, the Initiative has provided theatre education opportunities to a diverse group of over 22,000 students across the country, helping them find pathways to careers in theatre.
Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge
The Wing also embraces the pipeline mentality with musical theatre writers, starting with a partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts for the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge, a national competition for high school students. The Songwriting Challenge culminates in a weekend-long mentoring and workshop session for the finalists with Broadway artists—plus a total of $40,000 in scholarships and the publication of their original song through Samuel French.
The program complements the Jonathan Larson Grants, which award unrestricted $10,000 grants and additional artist resources such as residencies, concerts, and recording grants to musical theatre composers.
“What we liked about the Songwriting Challenge is that was pre-Larson,” explains Hitchens. “Go back to this pipeline I keep talking about; this is for high school students. It's pre-professional.”
Theatre Intern Network
Beyond K–12, the Wing’s professional development programs help students enter and stay in the industry. One of the Wing’s primary resources for young professionals began as an informal assembly of interns in the industry. “They said, ‘Let’s get together and get pizza and talk and share stories and help each other.’ We took it over and said, ‘Well let us buy you the pizza,’” jokes Hitchens.
As they gathered to collaborate, the Wing formalized the meetings into the Theatre Intern Network, providing monthly panels on arts management and administration, in addition to mentorships and practical tools.
Hitchens refers to the program as a form of “Graduate School Light,” as some of the programming mirrors what might be explored in a more formal higher education setting, from a blend of practical tools to access to mentorship.
Another perk: Theatre Intern Network participants also have the opportunity to serve as seat fillers at the Tony Awards.
Another pipeline program, SpringboardNYC, gives college theatre students a more complete view of how to be a working actor in New York City. Hitchens recalls her earlier days as a musician: “I was coughed up out of a conservatory like, ‘Oh, what do I do?’” SpringboardNYC addresses the gap between the educational and professional realms acting students and young alumni are expected to navigate.
“It really gives them a leg up, because we know how hard it is to make it anywhere, but certainly here,” Hitchens says. “You’re going to have a leg up; you’ll have relationships and access to relationships you wouldn’t have; you don’t have to learn the hard way.”