In Fall of 2020, TAP will introduce Trenton Youth Theater (TYT) as the newest addition to its Saturday Morning Arts program. Princeton alumnus Victoria Davidjohn ’19 will serve as Director; Princeton theater faculty Jane Cox, Shariffa Ali, and Tess James as Faculty Fellows; and Trenton Central High School (TCHS) theater teacher Felicia Brown as Teacher Partner. Princeton theater students are encouraged to sign up as volunteers, and applications for the Student Leader/Trenton Arts Fellow position will open in mid-August.
For TAP Program Manager Lou Chen, who founded the Trenton Youth Orchestra (TYO) as an undergraduate student at Princeton, TYT is the realization of a longtime vision. “As TYO took root, I dreamed of replicating its collaborative model across different artistic disciplines, hence our recent expansion into choir and dance.” he says. “But it wasn’t until I got to know Felicia this past year that the way forward to developing Trenton Youth Theater became clear. We’ve been so fortunate to be able to work with Trenton’s visionary team of arts educators, and Felicia is no exception.”
Following Princeton’s academic calendar, TYT will be broken into two semesters of instruction, each lasting about 10-12 weeks. In the fall, during which rehearsals will take place online, students will work on developing specific skills related to theater, such as directing, acting, and lighting design. In the spring, with their freshly-honed skills, the students will work with their Princeton student mentors to create their own works of theater. Inspired by Princeton’s holistic approach to theater, TYT students will be exposed to all aspects of theater-making.
TYT will be open to students in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) theater program at TCHS. Trenton’s CTE programs are meant to prepare students without any prior experience in specialized fields, such as theater, for intensive study in higher education and/or as professionals. In ninth grade, students have the opportunity to enroll in a CTE program of their choosing, and receive formal instruction for the rest of their three years at TCHS through a series of workshops and structured learning experiences.
For Brown, who is the only theater teacher at TCHS and one of two in the entire district, this new collaboration with Princeton provides much-needed support to reach the tens of thousands of children in the Trenton area. Additionally, New Jersey recently released a new set of arts standards, meaning that Brown must rework her theater curriculum. “TYT is being established at a perfect time....[and] is meaningful because TYT lasts longer than having a teaching artist come into my class for a few days,” says Brown. “The group of leaders for TYT are strong in areas of theater that are not my strengths…I truly feel blessed to have them by my side.”
As Director of TYT, Davidjohn says that she looks forward to fostering community through theater: “I’m thrilled to be part of an opportunity to forge relationships between students who are passionate about the world of theater and are coming to that interest from a variety of perspectives and levels of experience. The possibilities of what can be discovered and learned about theater-making are endless when people are placed in collaboration and community with each other, and that is precisely the space TYT is looking to hold.” Indeed, Davidjohn herself is no stranger to the Trenton community. For her Princeton senior thesis, she directed a participatory theater production of The Odyssey that featured the Trenton Circus Squad and Trenton Children’s Chorus.
The Faculty Fellows each offer experience from their work in the field as theater makers, and will provide guidance as mentors to Davidjohn and her team of student volunteers. James offers her perspective as a freelance lighting designer, and expressed great enthusiasm for her involvement with TYT, stating, “There is nothing more exciting to me than to be involved in the design and tech process as young theatre artists craft their work.”
As a theater maker and leader dedicated to creating more inclusive spaces for artists, Ali is “committed to working with an open heart at the intersection of the performing arts and humanitarianism.” In her words: “We at Princeton have so much to gain from this TYT initiative. I believe that our campus will be made into a richer, more robust space (even if virtually) thanks to this collaboration with TCHS…it is great to see these values of inclusion and diversity being uplifted in such a clear and resonant way.”
Cox, who directs Princeton’s Program in Theater, believes that theater is inherently collaborative, and is hopeful that TYT will spark simultaneous growth in both the Princeton University and Trenton communities: “We think that our Princeton students and the Trenton students can become more alert, compassionate, creative, resourceful, and active citizens through learning to express ourselves together and collaboratively…We talk a lot in theater about community, but this will offer us a different opportunity, beyond the university walls, to learn what that really means.”
If you are interested in volunteering for TYT, please email TYT Director Victoria Davidjohn at [email protected]. If you are interested in applying for the TYT Student Leader/Trenton Arts Fellow position, please email TAP Program Manager Lou Chen at [email protected].