Shubert/MTI Broadway Junior Initiative Celebrates 19 Years of Impact | Playbill

Education News Shubert/MTI Broadway Junior Initiative Celebrates 19 Years of Impact

The Shubert/MTI Broadway Junior Initiative brings NYC students to Broadway and helps them stage Broadway Jr musicals in their own schools.

Shubert Foundation/Music Theatre International Broadway Junior Student Finale Daniel Radar

Playbill has partnered with Inspired to create and amplify stories of inspiration that advocate for access to arts and cultural experiences for young people across the country. The following article is written by the team at Situation Project and adapted from their online publication Inspired. Click here to learn more.

The 19th annual Shubert/MTI Broadway Junior Initiative is gearing up for another exciting celebration, highlighting the transformative power of theatre education on New York City public school students.

The Program's Impact

Peter Avery, Director of Theater for NYC Public Schools, shared his reflections on the program’s journey and its impact. "We serve schools that traditionally have fewer arts offerings, helping them apply for a uniquely funded program to put on musicals—often their first ever or first in years. The target audience is middle school students, a group historically underrepresented in arts education," explains Avery.

The initiative, now in its 19th year, provides schools with funded production guidance, professional development, and support to stage Broadway Jr musicals. Select schools get full funding, including a production arts manager in the first year, half the funding in the second year, and by the third year, the program aims to build sustainability so schools can continue their productions independently. "Over the years, nearly 100 schools have kept this going even after the funding ended, which shows the principals and school leaders recognize the value of having theatre in their schools," notes Avery. 

And each year, around 15 new schools sign up to participate. A true public/private partnership with the Shubert Foundation and Music Theatre International, Chancellor Banks and NYCPS Arts Office are proud of the ongoing legacy.

One of the highlights of the program is the culminating celebration performance on a Broadway stage. Avery emphasized, "It’s very important for me to let our NYC public school kids know that Broadway is their theatre too. It’s a universal theatre space where Broadway performers and movie stars have performed for over 100 years, and now these middle school students are taking that same stage."

Upcoming 19th Annual Student Finale

The sold-out 19th annual Shubert Foundation/Music Theatre International Broadway Junior Student Finale will take place on Thursday, May 23, 2024, at 11:15 a.m. at Broadway's Ambassador Theatre (219 West 49th Street). Co-hosting the event this year are Apollo Levine (MJ The Musical) and Samantha Pauly (The Great Gatsby). Hundreds of participating students across the 15 schools will share musical numbers from their fully produced school shows at the Finale. For many, it will be their first time performing on Broadway.

New York City Public School students from Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island will perform numbers from their full school productions of Broadway musicals. The shows include Disney's Aladdin JR., Annie JR., Fame The Musical JR., Disney's Frozen JR., Disney's High School Musical JR., Into the Woods JR., Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical JR., Shrek The Musical JR., Disney's The Lion King JR., Disney's The Little Mermaid JR., and Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka JR.

The program is sponsored by The Shubert Foundation, Music Theatre International (MTI), and New York City Public Schools (NYCPS). Attending the Broadway Junior Student Finale will be President of The Shubert Foundation Diana Phillips, President and CEO of Music Theatre International Drew Cohen, representatives from the NYC Schools Arts Office, prominent NYC arts educators, and leading members of New York's professional theatre community.

Shubert Foundation/Music Theatre International Broadway Junior Student Finale Daniel Radar

Challenges and Triumphs

The event also serves as a platform to address the challenges and triumphs faced by schools in implementing arts programs. Avery pointed out that the primary challenge is not a lack of opportunity but rather a lack of capacity. "The arts are there, with free and funded offerings across the city. It’s about commitment and willpower from school and community leaders to see the intrinsic value of arts education," he says.

Despite these challenges, the initiative has seen remarkable successes. While the Broadway event is a celebration, the true measures of success are the fully realized musicals produced for their school communities in their own theatres. With support from Broadway Bound Kids, ArtsConnection, and iTheatrics, classroom teachers transform into theatrical directors facilitating student artistry and agency. Some schools now promote themselves as “arts schools,” using their Broadway Junior productions to engage families and the community. 

"These schools see their productions as communal trophies for everyone involved, fostering a sense of agency and self-efficacy among students," Avery shares.

Shubert Foundation/Music Theatre International Broadway Junior Student Finale Daniel Radar

Expanding Cultural Exposure

The program’s impact extends beyond the students to their families and communities. Avery mentions that many adults attending the Broadway event had never been to a Broadway show before, highlighting the broader cultural exposure provided by the initiative. "We intentionally give the majority of tickets to the schools to disperse, not to the theatre community. We want the schools' communities to come and be proud of their kids," he says.

Avery is optimistic about the future of the program and other musical theatre initiatives in NYC public schools. "Musical theatre really is a uniting force, offering music, dance, acting, staging, set design, songwriting, and play or book-writing. It allows students to connect on multiple levels and provides a joyful, collective experience," he explained. "Theatre is ultimately collaborative. It takes a village to pull things off, and we couldn’t do this without the incredible partnership of funders, lead partners, school leaders, teachers, and families supporting our young student artists."

Inspired was created by Situation Project 501(c)3.

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