Bob Makin, @ReporterBMakin7:03 a.m. ET April 5, 2015
Having impacted several New Brunswick High School students with a theater residency for seven years, the coLAB Arts incubator’s education department is looking to expand into surrounding districts.
- The coLAB Arts incubator will co-produce “They’re Playing Our Song” at New Brunswick High School.
- For seven years, coLAB has enriched the high school’s theater curriculum.
- Every year, coLAB Arts organizes a trip for New Brunswick students to a contemporary theater festival.
- A program has been proposed for New Brunswick and surrounding students to enjoy arts events together.
While attending an annual class trip with coLAB to the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in West Virginia two years ago, Ashley Simmons, then a New Brunswick High School student, turned to co-founding coLAB Director of Education John Keller, and said, “I’m going to be a stage manager.”
Keller recently gave Simmons, now a college freshman, a recommendation for an internship at the festival.
For seven years, the New Brunswick-based coLAB, an arts incubator, has had that kind of impact on the high school, and is looking to help surrounding school districts with theater curriculum, productions and enrichment, Keller said.
“There is no greater organizing principle in a community than its public school system,” he said. “That’s where there is the most diverse organism within a community and the most hands-on organism in a community. For us, we are more directly linked to the New Brunswick community by being in the school system than any meeting in the New Brunswick Cultural Center or the mayor’s office. Not to degrade those, but the school is from where our energy comes.”
That energy will intensify as coLAB works with the New Brunswick Cultural Center and its arts organizations on developing an inter-school system that will allow students in Highland Park, Piscataway, North Brunswick, Franklin and Middlesex County Vo-Techs to enjoy professional arts programming with peers in New Brunswick, Keller said.
The arts incubator also is developing a joint oral history project between New Brunswick and Highland Park high schools, he said.
“They have different demographics and socio-economic realities, so that’s a really exciting thing for us, given our mission,” Keller said.
A healthy mix of professional project creation, educational outreach and cultural fun, coLAB recently started rehearsing “They’re Playing Our Song,” its second co-production with the high school’s theater department, following last year’s acclaimed take on “In the Heights.”
Simmons said she is grateful for the collaboration between the high school and coLAB because it changed the direction of her life in a passionate way. Having moved with her mother from the city to the countryside of Lehigh Valley, where she attends Northampton Community College, Simmons said she plans to return to New Brunswick to study theater at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts.
“I am so grateful to coLAB for opening up new experiences for me that I never knew,” she said. “I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to go to the festival with coLAB. I encourage anybody remotely interested in theater to do it.”
Staff Writer Bob Makin: 732-565-7319; bmakin@MyCentralJersey.com
What you can do
New Brunswick High School will present “They’re Playing Our Song” 7 p.m. April 23-25. For more information, visit http://nbhs.nbpschools.net/.