Last Year, Vincent Gassetto, a principal at the Academy of Applied Mathematics and Technology (M.S. 343) in The Bronx, spoke before a crowd of theatre industry professionals. The occasion was TEDxBroadway, an independently organized event licensed by TED, the by-now-renowned, multifaceted, California think-tank conference. His fellow speakers included Jordan Roth, the president of Jujamcyn Theaters and producers Ken Davenport and Randy Weiner.
Gassetto, whose school is in the poorest Congressional district in the country, spoke of how shrinking arts funding to schools ran the danger of disenfranchising a diverse and talented student body. He related the transforming experience of taking his students to a single Broadway show — a performance of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. The kids' eyes were opened to new artistic and career possibilities. "That day was the highlight of my 12-year career," he said in the speech. And he challenged the crowd to commit as fiercely to schools as his school has now committed to the theatre.
After the talk, said TEDxBroadway co-founder Jim McCarthy, CEO of Goldstar, "Fifty people came up to him and said, 'What can I do?' and he said, 'I don't know.'"
Gassetto is speaking again this year TEDxBroadway, which takes place at New World Stages in New York City on Jan. 28. Now, he's got a new story to tell. Since last year's event, the people at Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark reached out to him. M.S. 343 had a "Career Day." Thirty actors and musicians, as well as the director and producer of the show, took part, doing break-out groups with the students. The musical also sent a truck to rig the school’s stage for a concert and the cast performed four numbers.
Moreover, Gassetto's students have now been to Broadway or Off-Broadway several times. They have seen War Horse, The Piano Lesson and Mary Poppins. Each grade has attended a separate show with a talk-back session. There are more shows scheduled for spring. Gassetto said that before TEDxBroadway, ten percent of the kids had seen a stage show. Now, 90 percent have.
This story is music to the ears of McCarthy and his co-founders Damian Bazadona, creator of Situation Interactive, and producer Davenport (Godspell). This year's event asks the thematic question, "What Is the Best Broadway Can Be?" And the trio of men hope that the conference will improve the fortunes of the greater theatre community and district.
"We're trying to get people in the Broadway community, broadly speaking, into the room," said McCarthy. "And hopefully they'll pick up some of those ideas and do something awesome with them in the future."
"Broadway is changing," said Bazadona. "There's an evolution happening. There are a lot of interesting pieces coming together. The industry now has some serious issues that it's addressing, everything from what goes on stage to ticket costs. And I think people need a stage where they can talk about ideas in a way that there's not the pressure that you have to have a speech that solves a problem. "
In 2009, TED — which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design — began granting licenses to third parties to organize independent TED-like events internationally under the rubric of "TEDx." TEDxBroadway has to abide by the rules set down by TED. No speech may exceed 18 minutes. The speakers are not paid. And the top tariff allowed is $100 a ticket. But that price covers the entire seven-hour event, which begins at 11 AM. All the money made is funneled back into the future of the conference. (Additional funding is provided by the event's co-organizing sponsors: Jujamcyn Theaters, Google and Broadway.com. Other sponsors include Fathom Events, Theatermania, NewYork.com, Audience Rewards, Chase Bank, Davis Wright Tremaine, Camp Broadway and BroadwayWorld.com, and Ticketmaster.)
Speakers this year include Broadway producer Daryl Roth, Disney Theatrical Productions president Thomas Schumacher, Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout, designer Christine Jones, actor George Takei and many more. Read more about the lineup here.
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