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Drew’s AdvantageArts Immerses Newark High Schoolers in Theatre Arts, Drew Profs and Students as Guides

“The beauty of the AdvantageArts program is witnessing students gain confidence in their artistic self expression and through this, embrace a new and supportive artistic community.”

July 2019 – Twenty one high school students from Newark got first-hand experience with a full theatre production in Drew’s AdvantageArts program.

The month-long summer intensive program, a collaboration with Newark Public School’s Office of Extended Learning and the Marion A. Bolden Student Center in Newark, NJ, exposed the students to acting, dance, design, technology and stage management. Five of the participating students also earned college credits.

AdvantageArts coordinator and Professor of Theatre Arts Lisa Brenner, was also a co-director. “We are so proud of this year’s participants,” she said. “In addition to creativity, theatre teaches many life skills such as teamwork, focus, flexibility and diligence.”

Students worked with mentors on and off the set while on campus. The mentors consist of Drew students, recent alumni and Drew Theological School students.

“When Drew Theological School decided to pilot a new certificate program, Justice Ministry Education, we chose to focus on justice and the empowerment of youth in Newark through the arts,” said Drew Theological School Associate Dean Dr. Tanya Linn Bennett. We were fortunate to find partners in Drew’s own theatre department. For the last two summers, our students have served as mentors and tutors to students participating in the AdvantageArts program, learning about how theatre and other art forms engage and encourage high school students to explore their identities and develop a sense of agency as they come to adulthood.” 

Program student Ryliann Butler spoke of her second summer in the program, “I came back because it was a lot of fun and helped me experience things that I hadn’t before.”

The group participated in the full production of two short plays commissioned by professional writers: “Southwestern High” by Cassandra Medley and “Stare and Compare,” by Evelyn Diaz Cruz, both with cultural and social themes relatable to the teens.

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Celebrating a flawless performance

“The beauty of the AdvantageArts program is witnessing students gain confidence in their artistic self expression and through this, embrace a new and supportive artistic community,” said co-director and Assistant Professor of Dance, Kimani Fowlin. “I am honored to guide these young humans on a journey through the arts.”

The camaraderie forged between the students was evident through the program’s concluding performance of both plays. Student Alberto Noel Cáceros reflected on his experience, “Sometimes you’re afraid to be who you are, but I can be myself, have fun and be an individual.”

Here’s a closer look.