It’s never been easy for working class families to dream about their children having a career in the arts. The talent, the drive, and the desire are always there…but, the money is not. Without access to arts education in school, the brightest and best often fail to find avenues where their creativity can be expressed. Art endeavors can be expensive, and parents often agonize over the reality that their child must direct their efforts toward supporting their families rather than having their own turn at reaching for the stars.
The new drama Rise is part of an effort to change all that. It will debut on March 20 on NBC. Just a few days ago, NBC announced that it will donate $500,000 in grant money to 50 high schools in the United States. The goal is to provide money which will support the kind of students and schools featured in Rise. Even better, it’s all inspired by a true story.
The drama tells the story of how a teacher inspires the theatre department at his school in a town whose working-class residents struggle daily to make life work. It’s based on the life story of Lou Volpe. He was a high school drama teacher, and the book Drama High by journalist Michael Sokolove pays tribute to how he revolutionized the drama program at Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania. It is a true story about the magic of theater. Volpe pushed his students to be dedicated, and he pushed his audiences even harder when his students presented provocative and insightful productions including Spring Awakening, True, and Good Boys. As the result of building a theater culture in the small town, his students went on to careers in the arts and theatre and the town was transformed.
Josh Radnor stars as the brilliant teacher; renamed as Lou Mazzuchelli. Radnor’s known for his role in How I Met Your Mother. The cast also includes Auli’I Cravalho, from the recent hit Moana, Rosie Perez, Damon J. Gillespie, Shirley Rumierk, Marley Shelton, Joe Tippett, Rarmian Newton, Taylor Richardson, Ted Sutherland, and Casey Johnson.
The network released a statement that the grants are available to high school theater departments across the entire nation. High schools may apply at NBC.com/Rise though February 6, and the winners will be announced sometime in March; with speculation that it will be to coordinate with the preview or debut dates.
Universal Television, Seller Suarez Productions, True Jack Productions, Jeffrey Seller and Jason Katims are the creative forces behind the new drama. Katims will be the Executive Producer, along with Mike Cahill as director. Flody Suarex, Michelle Lee and Seller will also serve as Executive Producers. Katims is known as executive producer and writer for Parenthood and Friday Night Lights. Seller is known for his work as producer on Hamilton.
Before the Rise preview airs on March 13, there’s undoubtedly going to be much in the media about how the lead character’s gay sexual orientation was changed to straight. There are already articles on LGBTQ Nation questioning the showrunner’s decision. It will be important for all viewers to know that Rise will include a production of “Spring Awakening”; provocative use with teenagers, and echoing Lou Volpe’s decision to program it in Levittown, Pennsylvania.
Perhaps what’s important here is not to question avoiding gender issues, but rather to focus on Volpe’s ability to bring theatrical magic to young people. The ability to truly educate and inspire at the highest levels crosses all gender lines. The significant kernel here is giving honor to those with the talent and passion to educate across boundaries. Telling the story of Volpe the educator honors not only his work, but the students who thrived because of him. Educating well is the true measure of a teacher, and Volpe taught incredibly well.