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Teacher Feature: Broadway's Lasting Impact On Students

Broadway Inbound

School’s out for summer, but here at Broadway Inbound we’re always thinking about the impact theatre can have on students of all ages.

Seeing a Broadway show can expand the way young people relate to the world around them… and even bring out their own theatrical aspirations. So we spoke with Kate O’Connor, a teacher on Staten Island, about the role theatre plays in her students lives and why she makes it a point to get them to see Broadway shows.

Broadway Inbound: How long have you been teaching?
Kate O’Connor: I have been in the NYC Department of Education for 41 years and worked as an education evaluator for 16 of those. The rest of the time I have taught in Williamsburg, East Harlem, and here on Staten Island with students who have special needs. I have an Advisory class that encompasses SAT prep, conducting mock job interviews, writing resumes, enhancing critical thinking and reading skills, improvisation, empathy-training, traveling, and theatre.

BI: Does your school offer any theatre programs?
KO: Our high school is divided into 8 small learning communities, one of which focuses on visual and dramatic arts, as well as dance and music. My close friend and colleague Craig is the drama teacher. I started my theatre initiative on my own.

BI: How did you introduce your students to Broadway?
KO: We began two years ago when I noticed an ad for the autism friendly performance of Come From Away, a musical I had already seen three times and loved. My students all have varying degrees of autism. The parents and students were very interested, and we purchased tickets. We then turned to Broadway Inbound and purchased 26 tickets for family and students to see Once On This Island. We have seen Kinky Boots, Dear Evan Hansen, and To Kill A Mockingbird through Broadway Inbound, which absolutely makes theatre affordable for our students and families.

BI: Why do you think it’s important for students to experience Broadway?
KO: It’s important for kids to see different perspectives and to experience diversity. Their theatre experiences have been transformative. Some of my students have never traveled on the weekend or weeknights without parents. They love walking in the city, navigating the transit system, and ordering their own meals. It’s wonderful when parents join us, but it’s an even better experience when the students feel more independent.

BI: Do you do anything special in the classroom before or after seeing a Broadway show?
KO: I’ve introduced the stories behind the shows in class prior to seeing a play and have exposed them to the music and lyrics before to enhance their enjoyment. By analyzing characterization, themes, and literary devices, we are building critical thinking and reading skills. We read both To Kill A Mockingbird and All My Sons in play form, and the students were riveted watching the actors play “their” roles. I must say I have created stage door enthusiasts, and the actors could not have been more gracious to my students who request photos and autographs or just the chance to show their appreciation of the work. Stage door etiquette is another lesson learned before we head out to a show.

BI: How does it feel to be able to share your love for theatre with your students and their parents?
KO: Overall, this has been the best activity I’ve promoted in all my years of teaching. We formed a small theatre “club” to discuss what we’ve seen and to share our thoughts on the productions and to select what we’d like to see next season. I love to see their faces light up as they enter the theatre and anticipate the show. Their enthusiasm is infectious! Organizations like yours are invaluable in making this happen for students everywhere. I am so very grateful we found you.

We’d like to thank Kate for taking the time to speak with us, as well as taking the time to share her love of Broadway with her students! If you’re an educator interested in bringing your students to see a Broadway show, we can help make it easy on you. Just give us a call or visit any of the show pages to start booking your next theatrical experience.

Author: Chanelle Cotton