High school students write, rehearse and act with guidance from Drew faculty.
High school students write, rehearse and act with guidance from Drew faculty.

AdvantageArts program introduces high school students to theatre and college life.

August 2016 – Twenty high school students from the Marion Bolden Student Center in Newark, N.J. rehearsed and performed two original plays in the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts as part of Drew University’s AdvantageArts program.

One play, Snap the Sun, focuses on social media.
One play, Snap the Sun, focuses on social media.

The students spent four weeks working on the plays with theatre and dance professors Chris Ceraso, Lisa Brenner, Rodney Gilbert and Kimani Fowlin and Drew student mentors. In addition, participants took classes with Drew faculty through Drew’s Summer College program, which prepares students from underserved areas for college life.

Another play, A Child's Place, depicts life in Newark, N.J.
Another play, A Child’s Place, depicts life in Newark, N.J.

The first play, Snap the Sun, was written by playwright and Newark native Pia Wilson and challenges four inner city teens’ opinions of social media. The second was written by the AdvantageArts students with help from Drew faculty. Titled A Child’s Place, the piece dissects life in Newark through a mix of songs, poems, prose and dance.

Drewids are mentors and cast members.
Drewids are mentors and cast members.

AdvantageArts is run by Ceraso, Brenner and Gilbert and funded by the Victoria Foundation, the Casement Fund, with Executive Director Tom Doremus C’68, and private donors such as Paul Drucker C’51, P’83. During the school year, Drew’s theatre students also work with high school students in Newark at the Bolden Center.

Gilbert said about 500 students have participated in the program since its inception. Some enroll for the first time as freshmen and end up coming back throughout their high school years. This year also produced a lot of new faces, who were “fresh and eager to learn,” Gilbert said. “They’re a great group.”

Gilbert, who sees each student grow and learn new skills while tackling acting, said AdvantageArts and Summer College are invaluable to the young participants. “It’s special, it’s needed and I wish there was more of it,” he said.

Shaleeyah Geter, a freshman at West Side High School, enrolled because she wanted to expand her performance skills. Already an avid singer, she hoped the program would make her a better dancer and actor.

“They pushed me to do new things,” said Geter, who sang, acted and danced in A Child’s Place. “I wish I could do it all over again.”

Lilibeth Miranda, who graduated from East Side High School in the spring, attended AdvantageArts in each of her four years in school. She won’t be leaving The Forest behind, though: Miranda will enter Drew this fall as a chemistry and psychology major.

The decision to enroll at Drew was easy, she said, because “I’d already been coming here since freshman year and I have a sense of the atmosphere. It’s comfortable in that it’s familiar to me, but there’s also the excitement of meeting new people.”

Through her four years in the program, Miranda gained confidence as a student, actor and person. “The student mentors and faculty are really encouraging,” she said. “They want everybody to do their best, and they push you to do so.”