I spent some wonderful time in NYC with a great group of people. The Theater trip took us to 3 Broadway shows in 3 days.
Traveling with Theater kids from Chapel Hill High School was an experience. My only previous experience had been with sports groups. Frankly, they hadn’t gone that well. I really wanted to see New York City. I had never been to a Broadway Play. If being a chaperon was the way to do it, then I was going to be a chaperon.
Unexpectedly Pleasant Surprises
We are conditioned to believe that High School Students are awful. Once they are “turned loose” in a place like New York, only bad things can happen, right? The way these Chapel Hill High School students behaved exceeded my expectations. While we chaperons and their excellent Teacher – Thomas Drago – can take some of the credit. The students themselves made it easy.
I learned a lot watching these kids interact with each other. They were mostly Juniors and Seniors with a few Sophomores and Freshmen mixed in. A lot were ADD or ADHD or just a little flaky in one way or another. Remember when you were in High School?
I do. The wildest thing these kids did was walk into stores and mess with the shopkeepers. Well, not so much mess with as creatively engage them – pretending to be this or that person. I even got into the act and decided to never answer with where I was actually from for the whole time. It was fun.
What made this different in many respects was the sense of mission and purpose. Burning Coal Theater planned the trip. Whitney Madren did a great job of facilitating and leading the Tour. The Burning Coal Theater folks – led by Ian Finley – also had us see 3 affordable and unique productions featuring distinct styles and diverse technical, theatrical, musical and puppetry details.
The Actors and Techies (Technical People on Productions) approach theater from a different perspective. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by Techies. Watching their eyes light up and listen to excited conversations about some unique rigging for Mary Poppins was the coolest experience of my first ever Broadway Show. I walked out to check on some students in the hall and they were calling their parents during intermission to tell them how awesome the show was. When you are surrounded by people truly enjoying something, it is an awesome moment.
After the first day, it became clear that my job as a chaperon was not to control and prevent as much as to enable. It is a subtle difference. The danger of enthusiasm is that it blinds you to things… like cars.
I am not a great Tour Guide. I tend to enjoy getting lost and really don’t care if I get “somewhere.” So it was just easier to let the students lead. Truthfully, I had no real agenda. The Burning Coal Theater did a great job of organizing views and walking tours of Greenwich Village. I am really glad about this one. It showed a different side of NYC. Once you get out of the Times Square theme park into the neighborhoods – even the expensive ones – you find a little more about life in a city like New York.
Riding the subway was something unique for most of the kids too. Granted the NYC Subway is a lot safer and better maintained than anytime in the past, but the students also got to see someone complaining about paying taxes and not getting an A Train for 10 minutes. Of course, talk to the folks on U Street in DC who had to wait 20 years and live in America, but have no voice in Congress. It is rough everywhere.
Summing It Up
Awesome. Just awesome.
While people who don’t have teens pontificate about teenagers in America, the truth is they have no idea what they are talking about. We had a group of different types of people who all got along. There was no bullying, no one got lost and everyone got to experience the New York they wanted to. It couldn’t have been a better experience for me as a chaperon.
I am so happy that I was lucky enough to see Sister Act, War Horse at Lincoln Center and Mary Poppins at the restored New Amsterdam Theatre with so many delightful and engaged people. I could have seen these shows alone, but to see them with knowledgeable and talented young people made it something that I will remember for a lifetime.
Also, loved the 99 cent pizza at 1 AM off Times Square.