EF Academy’s Drama Club is alive and well and it’s been the most popular club, if not the most well-known one, for nearly a decade.
Led by former actress, Ginny Borton, a teacher who has been with EF Academy since the school was established, the drama club stages full-length plays a couple times per year. And while she and her teaching partner, Giovanni Villari, direct and help students put on the plays, it is ultimately the students who produce and act in the plays, build the sets, arrange the lights and create the costumes.
“That is particularly unique among high schools because most schools, especially in the US, have parents who come in to help and extra people are hired to do everything,” Ms. Borton says. “Here, our students take great responsibility and they get a lot of self-esteem from it. That’s what really drives it too because it’s truly their own production and they become very invested in what they are doing.”
Ms. Borton earned her Master’s Degree in Educational Theater from New York University and taught at the high school and college level before coming to EF Academy. The daughter of a geologist, she grew up and traveled through Asia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East with her family and attended an international boarding school abroad. She says she was particularly drawn to the position because she knew she could relate to her students and their experiences – and the fact that everyone comes from a different place is one of the things that Ms. Borton thinks makes the program so special.
“From the beginning, we found that theater is truly a family and a place where students from all backgrounds can get together and work as a team,” Ms. Borton explains. “The different cultures come together in delightful ways. In the first year, there were only about 100 students, but we already did three different productions that year because everyone wanted to do theater. We didn’t have as many clubs then, so the theater became the place that everyone wanted to go to after school to be together and play together.”
Though drama and theater are specific areas of interests, the activity often draws students who are not exactly interested in pursuing theater in the future but who enjoy time spent being creative with friends. Ms. Borton says that many of her students are planning on studying economics or politics in the future, but they have all still expressed how much they can take from the class and use in their own lives. This, she says, is very exciting and inspiring to see.
“What I find is that theater is full of life lessons. I think that draws students in and they learn that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You learn about teamwork and commitment and responsibility and dedication and investment and time, and what the outcome of all of that is,” she says. “The joy they feel when the curtain goes up, and when they receive all the applause, that’s something that really stays with them throughout their lifetime.”
The Drama Club has put on the Legend of the Sleepy Hollow, Canterbury Tales, Our Town, Grease, Footloose, Little Shop of Horrors, Pippin, Love of Three Oranges and Treasure Island, and this year they will produce Street of Shadows. Oftentimes, Ms. Borton will have other faculty members participate in the plays; the music director and band leader have been known to help out in the productions.
Another difference between EF Academy New York’s theatrical productions and those put on by other high schools is the audience. While most schools can invite family members to fill the seats in the theater, at EF Academy, the productions must appeal to the student body. The plays often inspire those in the audience to get involved in the club themselves. But what truly brings the students back to the theater is the desire to support their friends, whether they are on stage or backstage. The theater program at EF Academy also thrives thanks to support from administrators who believe in the program and the power the arts have to influence and improve high school education.
EF Academy New York’s theater program also includes the IB theater course, which focuses more on teaching students about theater around the world, theater traditions, theories and how to become a theater artist rather than having them put on productions. However, over the course of the two years, the IB theater students do create their own theater piece from beginning to end.
With such close proximity to New York City, it’s easy to find inspiration on Broadway and to see shows on a regular basis. Ms. Borton is very connected to the International Schools Theater Association (ISTA), which is an important part of the IB theater program. ISTA hosts a three-day student conference in NYC every year. It brings theater students from around the world together and gives them the tools to succeed in IB theater by organizing workshops with experienced leaders from different parts of the globe. Mr. Villari also takes students who are interested in tech theater to NYC to assist with hanging lights or set construction for small productions by actual theater companies.
There are many opportunities for students to explore and learn about drama and theater, whether they are studying the subject or they just love the excitement of seeing the curtain rise. Ms. Borton says that she, too, learns something every day.
“They really have all the answers, it’s just a matter of giving them the freedom and permission to trust themselves,” she says. “I relearn every day this joy in theater and the delight of learning and discovery.”
For her, the true joy of theater at EF Academy New York is “how it melts away the borders and boundaries, they all blend together and that adds so much to what the students are doing here.”