Interview: Artistic Producer Peter Avery and Mateo Lizcano Talk The Shubert Foundation's 2022 High School Theatre Festival

The Shubert Foundation's 2022 High School Theatre Festival presents on Monday, May 23 at 7:30 pm at the Winter Garden Theatre (1634 Broadway) on Broadway.

By: May. 21, 2022
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Interview: Artistic Producer Peter Avery and Mateo Lizcano Talk The Shubert Foundation's 2022 High School Theatre Festival

More than 100 talented young NYC public school theatre artists will make their Broadway debuts in The Shubert Foundation's 2022 High School Theatre Festival for NYC Public Schools on Monday, May 23 at 7:30pm at the Winter Garden Theatre (1634 Broadway) on Broadway. This annual high profile and high energy theatre education experience for NYC students is presented by The Shubert Foundation and the NYC Department of Education Arts Office.

Shuler Hensley (The Music Man) and Tony Award nominee LaChanze (Trouble in Mind) will host this year's eighth annual event, which returns in-person following the last two virtual festivals. Additional guest presenters, supporting public school theatre education, will include Denée Benton (Into the Woods), K. Todd Freeman (The Minutes), Jessica Hecht (The Price), Mateo Lizcano (Dear Evan Hansen), Nathaniel Stampley (Paradise Square), and Antwayn Hopper (A Strange Loop).

We sat down with Peter Avery and Mateo Lizcano to discuss their involvement in the The Shubert Foundation's 2022 High School Theatre Festival.

Meet the Artistic Producer, Peter Avery:

Can you break down the origin of the Festival and how it began?

Sure. So we're in year eight now of the Shubert High School Theatre Festival. And it's kind of a dream. Several years ago, well, 10 years ago, I pitched it to the Shubert Foundation, because there was nothing like it in New York City, you know that there are festivals, state festivals in Texas, and other places. I think because of the density in New York City, it's kind of just taken for granted, I wanted to have an opportunity for our serious theater students or young artists to really shine and show the world what our students can do when we treat them like professionals. So I pitched this idea which is coming to fruition, giving them the forum which would be a Broadway house, not just their high school auditorium and not just a college. The way we tend to look at the epitome of professional theatre is Broadway. And we will have the Broadway community celebrate our students, and also have it be a house that's open to students and their families and their school community.

What kind of students participate in the festival?

One of the beautiful things that have happened is we have many people come who have never been to a Broadway show and their first experience of a Broadway show is seeing their students, friends, and peers. These are kids that come from across the spectrum of New York City; immigrants and generations that have been here forever perform on a Broadway stage with lighting, tech crew, and with a Broadway house band performing for them. Having a mixed audience and having people who are theatergoers sitting next to people who hopefully will now become a theatergoer. That was part of the mission. It's also part of my mission to celebrate and showcase the impact of having theatre in our schools. I think theatre is an incredible forum for people to look at students get a script, rehearse, practice, get cast and work together. There is trial and error and it's completely collaborative. Then they actually have a product at the end and they put a show up. So there's a process and product.

Interview: Artistic Producer Peter Avery and Mateo Lizcano Talk The Shubert Foundation's 2022 High School Theatre Festival

How can the students participate?

The festival draws on all five boroughs. So any high school that's doing a theater production gets to apply. We send out two theater artists from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and teaching artists to adjudicate the show and give them common criteria, which is very straightforward. They can assess the production and give them feedback on what worked and what could use some help. Why this is a production that is worthy of the festival, or why it might have fallen short. The directors get that feedback. So I want this to be iterative and educational. So it's not just a competition, it's a celebration. We ask artists to submit their work to us, we review it, and we ask the schools that are in the final tier to submit videos. And then we choose and we rotate. So no school can do more than two shows out of three.

What do you look for as far as the Broadway artists you select?

I have Broadway performers because I think it's important for our students to be honored by Broadway professionals, and see that it's achievable. In part of the presentation, each artist is going to say why theatre matters to them. We look to Broadway artists who want to participate. We are looking at people who are in current shows or people who in the past have a generous spirit. I'm looking for diversity in all aspects. So ideally, have a balance of veteran Broadway people and young people like Mateo Lizcano who is still in high school. We strive for diversity of voices, and diversity with racial and ethnic gender identities. So here you have people who are often upheld and honored coming in and honoring our kids and respecting them.

Is there a specific message with this play festival? Who are you trying to reach? Also, is the festival open to the public?

We do get a lot of people who ask if they can come but we are limited by the seats in the theater that we're in. The festival is for the students, their school communities, the theatre community, and for the arts education community to celebrate theatre in our schools and the power of theatre in their lives. So it's not open to the public. However, we invite anybody who's in a school community of one of the five schools. We also invite every school that participated in the festival but didn't get picked. So there are ten schools this year that didn't get chosen. We invited those students and their communities to come. Because we want them to celebrate their peers, but also see, oh, that's the level we're looking at. We want to keep working on our craft. It's not advertised to the general public. But it is open to the Broadway community and the theater community. Although not open to the public, a large number of audience members are in a Broadway house for the first time, to see their children and peers. I want to thank the Shubert Foundation for their significant generosity in sponsoring this Festival and to the Shubert Organization for providing the theater and production support.

I keep getting feedback, it's one of the people's favorite nights on Broadway in the year because it's a chance for our students to take over. Everybody gets to see not just individual performances and showcases, but actual productions. We're living for 15 minutes in the world of these kids' plays. In terms of why we're doing it, and who's who is it really for, it's a chance for these young people to say, I'd like to take this potential career seriously. I do this at my school, but the community comes to see it is in my community. Whereas in the festival, there's a chance for them to shine for the New York City theatre world and for their peers from different boroughs and schools.

Interview: Artistic Producer Peter Avery and Mateo Lizcano Talk The Shubert Foundation's 2022 High School Theatre Festival

Is there anything you want our readers to know?

We're very fortunate in New York City that we have dedicated theater teachers and a blueprint guide with curriculum and lesson plans. We have students who are actually learning theater as a content area not as an extracurricular. Just like math or science or English. And they're learning about the 360 of theatre. So not just performance. It is inspiring to have the support of my NYC Department of Education colleagues and specifically the vision of Chancellor Banks who speaks of the power of theater education to enhance the life skills of all our public-school students. So I'm excited that the festival has been kind of a high-profile event that's drawing attention to 360 theater education that should be happening in every school, and that the theatre community has really been supportive of it.

Meet Mateo Lizcano:

Can you just tell me a little bit about your involvement with the festival this year?

Yes, I am a presenter at the Shubert Festival this year, I'm going to be presenting The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts' production of Rent. I believe Shubert Festival reached out to Dear Evan Hansen and ask them to pick somebody to present. They picked me not knowing that that's actually my school. The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts is my high school and they didn't know that. So it's all one big crazy coincidence. I didn't tell any of my friends in the cast. Trying to surprise them that day. So hopefully they are surprised. I'm super excited. It's a really full-circle moment.

What is your background in performing?

I've been performing since I was five. Theatre has always been a passion of mine, and something that I always knew I wanted to do. I started doing it professionally when I was nine. I did a few musicals in high school. I've done Phantom of the Opera, my school's production of Hairspray, as well as my school's production of Songs for a New World. That production of Songs for a New World actually led me to the Roger Rees Awards, which led me to the Jimmy Awards, which kind of helped me into Dear Evan Hansen.

What do you hope will come from this festival? For yourself?

For myself, specifically, I was actually part of The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts' production of Rent. I was going to play Mark and I was very excited to do that. Then I booked Dear Evan Hansen. So then I became an assistant director for Rent. In its beginning stages, I helped out my musical theatre teacher and director at Frank Sinatra. It was really great to get to work with my friends on it. Then I left to be in Dear Evan Hansen. I came back every now and then to see what was going on with the show. So for me, it's very interesting to see these two worlds colliding. From Dear Evan Hansen and also presenting the show that I was going to be a part of, it's a nice little wrap-up, at least for me, to the year. The thing I'm most looking forward to is just seeing my friends perform, and having a really great time. Just seeing them happy and doing what they love. That's what I look forward to the most.

What do you hope to be doing in five years?

Oh, in five years, I hope that I'm still performing. I also enjoy writing. My friend and I wrote a musical. It was in a new work series pretty recently so I hope that maybe someday that will go somewhere. I hope to still be involved in the arts because it's my passion. It's what I've loved since I was really little. That's where I hope to be...just in the arts, in whatever way it can be.

Coming from someone who is still in high school yourself, why do you think festivals like this are important?

I think it's important for people to see the work that goes into these productions and also see the talent of all these young adults. I just think that's really important. Theatre gives people a space to express themselves in many different ways. I think it's really great to see a bunch of young adults expressing themselves through art. It's great to see, and it's great to know that these kids are able to present themselves in a way that maybe they wouldn't be able to without the arts.

Do you want to tell us a little bit about Dear Evan Hansen, and how your experience has been with that?

It has been an amazing experience, a very surreal experience. I was hired as an understudy. I was the newest hire going into the reopening of Broadway and the reopening of the show. So I got to be in the rehearsal process for everything. It was very interesting to see a creative team and its cast go back to work that they've already done. Seeing that entire process was really awesome.

The biggest takeaway for me personally is I got to see the importance of understudies. See how little we appreciate them sometimes because they really do a lot. Learning multiple tracks, knowing multiple roles, and being ready to go on at any point in time. It's a difficult job and you got to be ready to go. I've seen my colleagues go on in the middle of shows, go on with a lot of notice, or go on with maybe about an hour of notice. I think it's very important for people to see that understudies are really working their butts off.

After being an understudy, eventually, I was offered the role of alternate. It's been a very surreal experience. I'm only 18 and I truly never thought that I would get where I am today this early in my life. So it's been an amazing experience. It's been a really great year and the company, the cast, and everyone in Dear Evan Hansen are such lovely and talented people. I really couldn't have asked for a better start in the world of Broadway.

Interview: Artistic Producer Peter Avery and Mateo Lizcano Talk The Shubert Foundation's 2022 High School Theatre Festival

The Festival celebrates five outstanding high school student productions from the 2021-22 school year, selected from more than 20 productions across the city by professional theatre artists and theatre educators. Over the course of the festival's eight-year history, school productions from all five boroughs have performed at the event.

This year, student presentations from the following schools will present excerpted scenes and musical numbers in order as follows:

Into the Woods - Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts (Manhattan)
Indecent - Professional Performing Arts High School (Manhattan)
Guys and Dolls - Curtis High School (Staten Island)
RENT - Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (Queens)
Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea - Brooklyn High School of the Arts (Manhattan)

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