Nassau BOCES Long Island High School for the Arts has received the prestigious distinction of being one of only 23 high schools nationwide handpicked to host a premiere of the hard-hitting drama, Prospect High: Brooklyn.
The play, developed in partnership with Education at Roundabout, was written by Daniel Robert Sullivan along with a team of New York City teenagers. It is also the first high school rolling “world premiere,” meaning the play will debut at many small theaters within a 12-month season.
“I’ve always thought it would be great to offer that kind of arrangement to high school,” Sullivan said. “After much research, we chose 23 of the boldest high school theater departments from across the country and can use this first-ever high school rolling world premiere to recognize them and expose their power at a national level.”
Prospect High: Brooklyn began its rolling high school “world premiere” almost a year ago in Indianapolis and will conclude in San Diego in May. The Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts will then perform the play in Roundabout’s own Black Box Theatre in Manhattan in September.
Sullivan, a teaching artist and professional actor known for his ongoing role as Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys, had long nurtured a desire to create a forum for stories told by teenagers.
“I found their stories to be extraordinarily interesting yet usually they never got beyond the classroom,” said Sullivan. In Prospect High: Brooklyn, a drama with humorous moments, the students get to have their “voice.”
The play evolved, Sullivan said, as he met with teenagers from all walks of life and different schools who were “willing to open up and share” their experiences three times a week for nine months.
“These are things students deal with on a daily basis and truly wanted to talk about,” said Sullivan, adding that bullying, apathy, racism, trans-acceptance, self-harm and violence are issues addressed by the play.
The result is an authentic powerhouse of a production detailing the events that transpire over the course of an October afternoon at a fictional Brooklyn high school that could be any school in the United States.
The action “culminates in one disturbing act and the question is could it have been prevented,” Sullivan indicated. The story also highlights the importance of deep friendship for teens.
“What saves these kids are their peers, their friendships and social networks,” he said.
Abbe Gross, a teacher in the LIHSA theater art department, directed the production. She said it looks at “moments that change lives.”
“Prospect High: Brooklyn is a cautionary tale about the consequences of seeing conflict and saying nothing or adding fuel to the fire,” Gross explained. “The Long Island High School for the Arts is dedicated to using the arts as a tool for social change. It is in that spirit our students bring this play to life in the hope it will inspire its audience to raise their voices.”
Students who are involved in groups that foster leadership and social change and those interested in these issues are encouraged to attend.
“Teenagers will recognize themselves in the production,” Sullivan said.
But he added that his and his young co-writers’ mission is to get adults to see the show, too.
“This is what they [the students] want people to know,” Sullivan said. “We gave them the platform. It is an eye-opening experience.”
Performances take place at LlHSA’s Seymour Weiner Theater, 239 Cold Spring Rd., Syosset at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on April 20 and at 10 a.m. on April 21. Tickets are free. For reservations or more information, visit www.nassauboces.org/lihsa.