A Young Start for the Drama Department
In the first floor black box theatre during 4th period, a junior drama class strikes the set for their upcoming play: Sophomore drama majors stand around the bookshelf looking for plays for scenes while senior drama majors present monologues for college auditions. In the corner is the man behind it all, typing his lessons for directing on his laptop. Mr. Eric Young has only been working at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) for three months, and already he is putting his plans into action for the school year.
Mr. Young has worked in various forms and programs relating to theatre in New York City, including Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ education program for years. He is a product of a performing arts high school, Alabama School of the Arts, and went on to graduate from The Boston Conservatory. However, during his teen years, there weren’t always opportunities available for him to act.
“Growing up in Alabama didn’t leave many cultural opportunities for people in the arts. I did many community theatres and kept involved in learning my craft, but I knew I would have to move out of the south to pursue a career in theatre,” Mr. Young said.
Working as a drama teacher in a New York City performing arts high school has always been a dream of his, and it has worked as a driving force in his teaching.
“I think Sinatra is amazing because it creates a safe haven to express your art and what you are passionate about. I love helping students and young people to develop as artists and actors, but also to develop as people,” said Mr. Young.
“The one thing that was surprising to me was that I knew that it was a competitive school to get into, but I did not realize the level of competition that continues when enrolled, especially in the Drama department. Everyone is bringing their A game every day, which creates a great atmosphere as a teacher,” he adds.
Unlike the other five studio majors offered at FSSA, each drama student has something different to offer as a people. It can be difficult to accommodate each individual’s needs, especially in the process of teaching. To help, Mr. Young encourages actors to get in touch with who they really are in order to be successful.
“You becoming aware of who you are as a person and discovering your identity goes hand and hand with your training as an actor, because as an actor your body is your instrument. I think actors have to be extremely sensitive emotionally to themselves and to the world around them. Another thing that makes a great actor is the quality of vulnerability: this ability to let your guard down, open up, and be affected,” he said.
Before teaching at FSSA, Mr. Young was a teacher at Maspeth High school, another fairly new public school in Queens. While there, he was the chairman for the performing arts program and helped to establish it. With his help, students there were able to take four years of an arts sequence (Dance, Drama, Vocal and Instrumental), although being primarily an academic academy.
In his new school, he hopes to bring as much change to the environment and is already in the process of doing so.
Currently, Mr. Young is working on the “New Works, New Voices Play Festival,” a one act play festival that is directed, written and acted by the junior drama students. He is currently teaching the freshmen and directing courses.
“One of my goals is to make sure that the actors are performance ready by the time they leave freshman year. Another goal I have is helping Sinatra get outside of the four walls of the school with participating in outside productions,” he adds.
These other productions include some exciting programs that Mr. Young is in the process of bringing forth to the students such as The Shubert Foundation Theatre Festival, which gives students the opportunity to present their work on a Broadway stage; The National Shakespeare Competition, UCB Improv Team, where many Saturday Night Live actors have started their career, and establishing an International Thespian Society. This society will give students opportunities to receive scholarships toward their college arts education and towards their high school career.
Mr. Young is directing an upcoming spring play, “The Children’s Hour” that will premiere in the black box theatre in April 2017. Lastly, he suggests bringing casting agents to the performances, to grant jobs for students in the future.
Mr. Young hopes for these opportunities in the future as he believes that theatre brings connection even for people outside of the studio.
“What’s most important to life is connection: being able to connect to your true self. Being able to connect to others. I’m a person of faith, so being able to connect to God. These connections are what life is all about,” he said.
“As actors are working, I like to help them find personal connection in the work so that audiences come in, and are able to relate to the experiences happening on stage. Whenever there’s disconnection, life diminishes. I think that’s what we see in our country right now: even politically, people are at opposite extremes, and I think it hurts the quality of life we are all searching for,” Mr. Young said.
– by Emily DiSanti ’17