New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.
Written by Diane Paulus, Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University.

I was in grad school assisting Andrei Serban in France and we were doing Massenet’s opera Thaïs. It was the premiere and at the end of the first act there was this pause. Someone from the top ring stood up and screamed down to the stage "Mettre en scène au toilette" which [roughly] means "The direction is in the toilet!" When it was over I went backstage and the French stage manager said, "I'm so sorry. That was so embarrassing." And I said "It’s great! I wish we could be like this in America."

It’s a terrifying thing to really take audience participation that far, but it's something that excites me. If they want to quietly watch, that's fine. However, if they want to stand up, cheer, boo or talk, they should be able to. An audience should be free to have any organic response. I often think of my experience with kids as an example. 

Once, I had a small company out of grad school and we were performing a melodramatic version of Frankenstein. One of the collaborators, Alfred Preisser, used to run The Classical Theater of Harlem and was a teacher at The Harlem School for the Arts. So, on Halloween, we were invited to do the show in the lobby of the school.

There were about 500 kids in this atrium—it wasn't even a theater. The kids went wild. My collaborator Randy and I were there and we were just amazed that the kids were screaming at the monster, "Don't do it! Run! Run!" When the villagers in the play tried to burn the monster and all the kids were screaming, I was amazed as an impressionable young director. It was so alive. The kids were so unedited; they were just talking to actors from the get-go. To me it was the most incredible, pure theatrical interaction. 

Then, the next day, Alfred came down to the theater. "Boy did I get my hand slapped for that experience," he said. "We were trying to teach the kids in the school to be well behaved in the theater. You are quiet, you pay attention, you do not talk to the performers."

I often think about this because I want audiences to have passion. I want them to care about their theater as much as they care about their sports—like when you go to a sporting event and the people scream, "The referee is wrong! Play better!" The kind of passion for a team that comes from those fans is invigorating. They care about it, they know it, they're in on it. What is the etiquette we're teaching kids about the theater?

Of course I get it—it's not always appropriate to go to the theater and scream and hoot and holler. However, I think sometimes we say, "I do theater and here are the rules." I think there is room for all different kinds of theater. I'm not saying all theater should be loud, noisy, interactive or on your feet. But I'm always trying to say don't assume theater is just 'this,' that these are the rules. Keep looking at theater as a broader definition or how can you expand that definition of theater. 

It's such an important thing to turn kids on to theater in the right way.

Editor's Note: This post first appeared as two separate posts on our blog during our 2011-12 Season. It has been edited for clarity.

Diane Paulus is the Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University, and was selected for the 2014 TIME 100, TIME Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Paulus is the 2013 recipient of the Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical (Pippin). A.R.T.: Waitress (currently on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theater), Crossing (a new American opera with music and libretto by Matt Aucoin), Finding Neverland (currently on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre), Witness Uganda, Pippin, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Prometheus Bound, Death and the Powers: The Robots’ Opera, Best of Both Worlds, Johnny Baseball, The Donkey Show. Her other recent work includes Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna, currently on tour in Europe, Invisible Thread at Second Stage, The Public Theater’s Tony Award-winning revival of HAIR on Broadway and London’s West End. As an opera director, her credits include The Magic Flute, the complete Monteverdi cycle, and the trio of Mozart-Da Ponte operas, among others. Diane is Professor of the Practice of Theater in Harvard University’s English Department. She was selected as one of Variety’s “Trailblazing Women in Entertainment for 2014” and Boston Magazine’s "50 Thought Leaders of 2014."


Kids participating in one of the New Vic's educational workshops.
A classroom participates in one of the New Vic's educational workshops.
Our 2015–16 season here at The New Victory Theater has drawn to a close and we're turning our attention to this summer's Victory Dance and the bevy of shows we'll be offering up next season. The beginning of summer doesn't just signify the end of our season, however. Right about now, New York City's school kids are eagerly anticipating the three months of freedom waiting for them during the summer. Hold on just a moment before putting on your sunscreen and swimming goggles and take a trip down memory lane with us.

Our New Vic Education Department just collected some feedback from the fantastic teachers who brought their students to one (or more!) of our shows this season. They asked the teachers both why they bring their students to the New Vic and what moments stood out for them (or their kids!) in particular:

Why do you bring your students to The New Victory Theater?

• The students experience the freedom to express themselves. 
• You are very organized, from the staff to the ushers to everyone else involved. Thanks a lot. It is always an awesome experience!
• I want my students to see beautiful art in motion!
• Being able to talk to the cast and crew and learn about the process of putting on and developing a show is invaluable. 
• What could be better?
• Your shows are always some of the best, most memorable experiences our kids have all year!
• They have a chance to see live shows!
• They may never get to experience theater without our class trips to the New Vic!
• Our students are always ready to learn because of the workshops! Thank you!
• It makes it possible to see live theater!
• The kids need entertainment and exposure :)
• The sign language interpreters at every performance. Thank you for providing them! We love you!
• We love the fantastic workshops, they take the shows to a new level. Our students feel as though they are part of a special group.
• I couldn't ask for a better venue for my special needs students!
• You provide an experience very few of our students would have had otherwise. 
• My students LOVE the New Vic. The shows are awesome, kid appropriate, and professionally done. Keep up the great work. You are touching lives!

  A girl looks onto one of our shows this season.

What was your favorite New Vic moment of the year?

• Hearing my 1st grader say "This was the best day ever!"
• It was a great first year. Our workshops and performances were amazing!
• Bello! We are performing a school circus after seeing Bello. The workshop was also amazing!
• ANY teacher workshop.
• Seeing my students really enjoy opportunities to express themselves and try new things. Every week they become greater reflections of themselves. 
• My kids' mouths hitting the floor when Bello was on the basket.
• Being mesmerized by the great dancing in Untapped.
• Hearing how much my students loved Museum of Memories and experiencing post dramatic FOMO.
• We loved Untapped, it really rocked. Fly was also brilliant. We love it all!
• My kids jaws dropping when they saw Pedal Punk :)
• Fly was so fly! We all loved it! Beautiful show!
• Watching my kids engage in drama about war, Fly!
• The pre and post workshops were amazing and my students were engaged and enthralled :)

At the end of this season we want to thank you, our incredible audience. Without your enthusiasm and #LoveofTheater none of this would be possible. We look forward to seeing you over the summer months for Victory Dance and all throughout our 2016-17 season. 
Curious about learning more about Education Partnerships and The New Victory Theater? Make sure to check out all that we have to offer here for next season!

Posted by Beth Henderson
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