Ten Years After 9/11, Lower Manhattan High School Finds Its Musical Voice

By Adam Hetrick
17 May 2012

"Inner-city kids are often overlooked, and it gave them a huge sense of pride," Gillis said. "What theatre does for kids and what theatre does for a community is remarkable. It has both adults and students actively engaged. They couldn't believe they were recognized. It made these kids feel very special and take themselves more seriously."

As rehearsals for Guys and Dolls JR got underway at Leadership and Public Service High School, parents, students and faculty began coming forward to help out. Calls came in with offers of paint and other needed production supplies, while students even chipped in their own money to purchase dance shoes for kids who were in need.

Rehearsals are "fun and loud" at the school. The two young women playing Sarah and Adelaide are relishing performing "Marry the Man Today," and while students are having a ball rehearsing "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat" and "Luck Be A Lady," the atmosphere has permeated the academic and social setting of the school.

One student who was rarely in class now has a 92% average, while a female student who was often in fights has channelled her energy into the production, prompting the dean to notice that her name had not come across his desk in months.

Guys and Dolls JR is double cast, so that students have the chance to experience the importance of ensemble work and leading roles. The students are embracing the work, committing themselves to their parts and establishing characters.

"They have become so much of a group. They cheer for each other when something goes well. For me as a teacher, I feel like 'task accomplished.' They take each other under their wing. It goes beyond what's scripted. The show will be fine, it will be better than fine, but it's that social aspect that happens during rehearsals that they will carry with them after the show is over."

"My students now have a family and they have somewhere to go," Gillis continued. "This helped them create positive relationships and they don't want to leave. Now they're in school where they should be, so if you're here for rehearsal, you might as well go to class."

Students are already asking what musical they will be performing next year. "The arts culture will exist because it won't be allowed not to," said Gillis. "The kids just wouldn't allow it. I already have requests for West Side Story! I'm very lucky to have a supportive principal who believes in arts programming."

The curtain goes up May 17 at the Leadership and Public Service High School not only on Guys and Dolls JR, but also on a new dawn for the students – report cards are going up and kids are getting into good colleges, according to Gillis.

"I think the tower going up while we're trying to build back up really resonates," Gillis said. "We are the phoenix that rises from the ashes."

Performances of Guys and Dolls JR take place May 17 and 19 at 6 PM in the auditorium of the Economics and Finance High School, located at 100 Trinity Place. Tickets, which are available at the door, are $6 for adults and $5 for children.