By Gus Jacobson
Hello, Educational Theatre world! My name is Gus Jacobson. I graduated from the Undergraduate Program in Educational Theatre way, way back in 2012! Every year, for the past five years, I have had the pleasure of working at the New York State Theatre Education Association (NYSTEA) Student Conference as a teaching artist and Conference Committee Member. The Conference is an amazing whirlwind of a weekend attended by close to one thousand public high school students and their teachers. In the coming years, the conference is expected to continue to grow in size. We are already close to filling an entire resort hotel to capacity!
NYSTEA is a strong, statewide organization of theatre educators that promotes and supports theatre education for students in grades pre-K through 12. In addition to the Student Conference, NYSTEA oversees an Educator’s Conference (held at Niagara Falls, NY this autumn) as well as arts education advocacy all over New York State. The Student Conference, which just celebrated its 17th year, creates a wonderful opportunity for high school students from all over New York to come together for a full weekend of workshops given by colleges, universities and other theatre professionals, as well as networking with one another and experiencing a variety of performances throughout the conference. Students come from all over New York State to attend the conference –from Long Island to the Finger Lakes to the St. Lawrence River! In fact, I met fellow Undergraduate Program Alum Andy Germuga (’12) at the Student Conference in 2008 when we were both only seniors in high school. I was in school down in Westchester County, and he was from Rochester. Still, the NYSTEA Student Conference brought us together for the first time!
In previous years, NYU has sent its own delegation of theatre teachers to lead workshops for the high school students. This past January, I was thrilled to see two familiar faces, Rachel Tuggle Whorton and Ashley Lauren Hamilton. As I am sure they can attest, the energy of the conference is incessant, contagious, and remarkably “theatre kid.” Some students play their guitars in the hotel lobby, leading their new friends in song, while others might choose to brush up their monologues for our College Auditions or perhaps go snow tubing outside. Our friends from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS also attend every year to raise awareness, accept donations, and raffle off autographed posters, Playbills, and other unique memorabilia.
Speaking for the attending high school kids (for I was once one myself), this conference is a high school career highlight. In the over 100 workshop offerings, students receive expert instruction in technical theatre, acting, dance and voice. Each and every student schedule is hand crafted to reflect what the student’s interests are as well as workshops that might creatively challenge the student. In one weekend, every student will take five, 90-minute workshop, in addition to the social activities that high school students can choose from in between workshops.
Working at NYSTEA has become many things for me. There is the nostalgia of remembering the amazement that I felt as a high school student; the honor of working alongside so many teachers and practitioners who are as passionate about theatre education as I am; and the sheer joy of seeing how excited these students become. For those of us on the Conference Committee, the hours are long, the paperwork can be tedious, and the To-Do List can seem never-ending! But when all is said and done, it is because of this conference that I know of the power of theatre education, and I never hesitate to return for another year.
If you think you might be interested in working at the NYSTEA Conference on the Conference Committee, as a Teaching Artist, or perhaps as a College Representative or Vendor, we’d love to have you at the next conference. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org! For more information about NYSTEA, please visit their NYSTEA website.