When Bronx high school teacher Erica Vargas stood up as the final speaker at the June 2006 Open Doors graduation, she embodied the program's mission in a very personal way, and brought tears to the eyes of all who knew her as one of Wendy Wasserstein's first Open Doors students.
In 1998, Erica was one of the eight high school students who participated in the first year of the Open Doors program, co-founded by TDF and Tony- and Pulitzer-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein, in which students from underserved communities get an in-depth introduction to theatre with the support of professional mentors. Now Erica teaches high school herself, and this year she introduced her Bronx Health Sciences High School students to their first Broadway show, Bridge & Tunnel, via TDF's Stage Doors program, which integrates theatregoing into school curricula.
"I cannot express the magic I felt stir inside of me as I observed my students' faces throughout the performance," Vargas said. "I began to understand why Wendy developed the Open Doors program, and I started to feel what she must have felt when we sat down to our first performance, On the Town. It's like my life has come full circle."
Other speakers at the June 6 event included students from the 2006 Open Doors program, as well as mentors Frank Rich, Robert Longbottom, James Lapine, and Kirsten Childs and TDF staff. Krystal Hartley, who was a junior at Townsend Harris High School, called Open Doors "a life-altering experience…It's taught me to expect more from myself and not shy away from new experiences." Krystal said she also relished the open discussions facilitated by Open Doors, as compared to the "grade-oriented" atmosphere of most of her classes, which "prohibits students from ever really revealing anything personal." Through her Open Doors discussions, she said, "I learned to really listen and cherish my own opinion and those of others."
Jesus Almarante, a senior at Fanny Lou Hamer Freedom High School, also savored post- show discussions, and not only because they were conducted "with a mouth full of pizza." More seriously, Jesus concluded: "If Open Doors' primary goal is to get more youth into theatre, then I'm one of the many who has already been reached. Despite what I originally thought, theatre has become a place for me, too."
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