Pushcart Players, New Jersey’s award winning educational theater for young and family audiences has received a generous investment from The New Jersey State Bar Foundation (NJSBF) with a grant to underwrite distance learning in New Jersey schools. The initiative makes video footage and lesson plans connected to “A MORE PERFECT UNION,” the popular musical in the theater company’s 47th season, available to educators, students, and families throughout the nation.
“NJ State Bar Foundation is making it possible for Pushcart Players to share virtually what we love to do face to face – use the power of theater to entertain, instruct, and illuminate,” said Paul Whelihan, Producing Artistic Director. “And elementary schools in our home State will be able to access these learning opportunities for free!”
“A MORE PERFECT UNION” is a musical that captivates the spirit, action, and causes of the United States founders as they formulated the Constitution. It is particularly relevant to young learners in light of the US presidential election. There is a perfect opportunity to include students in the conversation about legal rights, civil rights, election law, and the precious legacy of democracy in America.
While detailing some broad, sweeping historical events and concepts, the play’s focus is on ordinary citizens involved in extraordinary events: Luke, Rebecca, Benjamin, and Abby. Through their eyes the story is told and the history unfolds. While addressing the complexities and conflicts of the period, the tone is purposefully light hearted. Through song, dance, and scene, history is made accessible to a young, contemporary audience.
The lesson plan package segments the production of “…Union” into four parts: “The Road to Revolution,” “The Promise of Peace,” “The Independent States of America,” and “In Order to Form a More Perfect Union.” While making new discoveries about the craft of theater, students can explore events in history (such as The Boston Tea Party), and learn about concepts of government (such as State rights versus Federal, taxation, and the Electoral College).
“The curriculum is useful to more than theater arts teachers,” noted Whelihan. “Pushcart is providing a creative way for history and social studies teachers to illuminate lessons. Teachers are free to use the lesson plans at their discretion, but we are also offering an option to have Pushcart teaching artists conduct remote workshops in connection to the four lesson plans. These, of course, would be toward using theater exercises, games, and methods as the pathway to learning.”
The NJ State Bar Foundation is a nonprofit educational and philanthropic organization that offers a wide variety of free law-related education programs and services for teachers and their students in the Garden State. With the certainty that informed citizens make better citizens, the fundamental purpose of the Foundation is to affect people’s lives by helping them better understand the laws that impact them every day. Whether educating students about the justice system through the mock trial programs, training teachers to better combat teasing and bullying, or keeping students up to date with timely articles on social justice issues, quality programming is the hallmark of NJSBF.
Pushcart Players is NJ’s premiere touring theater company specializing in arts education for children. Twice nominated for an Emmy©, Pushcart is the recipient of numerous state and private awards for excellence and innovation. Founded in 1974, Pushcart brings substantive musical theater, workshops, and residencies to young people in schools and theaters nationwide. The company has traveled more than 2.5 million miles nationally and abroad, from the rural red schoolhouse to the nation’s White House.
Pushcart Players pioneered the movement to make the arts a central part of the school curriculum, and continues to be in the vanguard of this commitment. The company provides opportunities for meaningful arts learning in its 33 original musical plays, and myriad classes for young learners. Both the plays and classes introduce the joy and magic of the live theater experience while underscoring many rich curriculum connections.
Pivotal to all Pushcart’s programming are the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. “Everyone, everywhere has the right to the inspired learning power of theater,” said Whelihan. “While the study of theater is valuable in and of itself, there is the added benefit of learning about history, human values, science, responsible behavior, and social values. NJSBF is helping Pushcart reach and engage the State’s diverse population.”
“As we reimagine the new and varied formats for arts education, the inherent benefits of social emotional learning remain the same. And active engagement in theater education can uniquely deliver those benefits,” added Whelihan. “We know, of course, that nothing will ever replace live theater, experienced as a community. We look forward to the time when that will happen again, but welcome the opportunity to forge these new pathways to joyful creativity.”
As a social-profit organization, Pushcart Players’ programs are made possible in part by NJ State Council on the Arts/Department of State, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Pine Tree Foundation of New York, NJ State Bar Foundation, NJ Economic Development Authority, Actors’ Equity Foundation, Community Foundation of NJ, ADP Foundation, EJ Grassmann Trust, Hyde & Watson Foundation, PNC Bank/Lillian P. Schenck Trust Fund, The Turrell Fund, The Puffin Foundation, The Whitehill Foundation, and numerous individual contributors.
PHOTO: Pushcart Players in A MORE PERFECT UNION (L to R: Danny Sims, Dana Patrice, Corey Whelihan, Stacie Gogo). PHOTO CREDIT: Sam Tucker
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