“My graduate work focused on bridging the gap between the academic campus and the professional theater industry,” says Professor Katherine Kavanagh, who earned an MFA in Creative Producing and Theater Management at Columbia University.
Today, Kavanagh continues to bridge that gap, by sustaining a relationship between BMCC’s theatre department and the prestigious Off-Broadway venue, Second Stage Theater.
Students from her Introduction to Theater and Theater Management classes not only attend Second Stage productions, but are treated to a reception where they meet the theater’s regular patrons, and take part in Q&A sessions featuring the actors, directors, stage designers, managers and other professionals that brought that evening’s performance to the stage.
“This is an active program,” says Kavanagh. “Students hear first-hand what it means to work in the theater from many famous directors and actors during the Q & A including Anna Devere Smith, Jan Maxwell, Sherie Rene Scott, and Kristoffer Diaz to name a few. In mid-November we will attend the first show of the season, The Blue Flower. Approximately 80 students will see the show."
“New York City’s theaters are our laboratory.”
As Kavanagh has observed, while BMCC theatre majors attend college just three subway stops from one of the world’s most renown theater districts, many have never attended a Broadway play.??
“Time and money are certainly factors,” she says, “but there are other obstacles as well. Attending in a group with their professor and classmates alleviates some of the intimidation they might feel."
Also, says Kavanagh, taking part in guided discussions while they’re there, gives students a sense of career paths in theater, “and encourages them to become lifelong theater patrons, themselves.”??
“This is more than just a good night out or an entertaining evening,” she says. “Students are engaging in research pertaining to their major. New York City’s theaters are our laboratory.”?
Finding common ground: A networking skill?
“The first time I brought students to the reception before a show, ” Kavanagh says, “it was like watching a kind of awkward prom—students on one side of the room, patrons on the other.”??
To build students’ confidence in meeting a roomful of dyed-in-the-wool, New York City theater lovers, Kavanagh led her class in role-playing activities where they practiced the art of finding common ground with a new acquaintance—a useful skill for young people looking to network and build their professional contacts.
“They love theater and the Second Stage patrons love theater. It’s a natural place to start a connection,” Kavanagh says. “I also began to realize how much the patrons were getting out of this experience. Many hadn’t interacted with young, urban college students before, and now they’re creating a very welcoming environment for our students, and cultivating them as fellow—and future—patrons.”
The business of theater
In the Q&A session after the show, students have a chance to look behind the curtain, and see the hard work that makes theater happen.
“The speaker panel changes for each show,” says Kavanagh. “Sometimes, it’s creative staff—set and costume designers. Sometimes, it’s the actors, or the stage managers and producers.”
Kavanagh knows first-hand, what it means to work in theater. “I have stage managed, directed, and produced in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Nicaragua, Scotland, and Israel,” she says.
Her experience provides context for her theater management courses, which cover “fundraising, marketing, and understanding the difference between non-profit and commercial theater.”
Now having been at BMCC for eight years, Kavanagh has brought nearly a thousand students to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Recently, she and her students attended the new David Ives play, Venus in Fur, on Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
“Next week, one of the managers from Manhattan Theatre Club will come speak to the students here,” she says. "We are very fortunate to have him on BMCC''s Theatre Program Board of advisors. He has been very generous with his time, and with tickets, when he can."
The need for campus-theater connections is widespread, Kavanagh says. “There are so many Off-Broadway companies with connections to high schools, but none working directly with college students in a truly sustained way. This is the fourth year I have taken BMCC students—over 500, altogether—to Second Stage. I''m very proud of this partnership. It is so exciting to attend theater with our students; in fact, this semester I was asked to expand our model to theater programs at City College of New York, and Queensborough Community College.”