Co-Op Greets—& Plays With—The Neighbors

IMG_6516.JPGDrama students hammed and Hamletted it up with Yale playwrights, the Shubert and their other new neighbors in a festive formal dedication of downtown’s new Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School building.

The school was formally opened to its 450 students two months ago. Saturday morning’s proceedings, complete with student-led tours and performances, hailed the ways New Haven’s own “Fame” high school students will be interacting with downtown institutions such as Yale and the Shubert.

IMG_6513.JPGAfter receiving the ceremonial key to her new school from the mayor and superintendent of schools, who called the $70 million Co-Op the best equipped arts high school in the city if not the nation, Principal Dolores Garcia-Blocker enumerated partnerships that were already begun with the school’s most immediate neighbors.

Those have included workshops with Co-Op faculty led by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogler, who runs Yale’s Drama School playwriting program.

In the works is a retreat being organized by Dorothy Fortenberry (pictured at top on the right), who graduated from Yale Drama last year, and some 30 aspiring Co-Op playwrights. They will work with current Yale MFA students on a drama “bake-off,” in which they write plays with a certain set of ingredients.

“It’s a Paul Vogel technique,” said Fortenberry, “where the kids take a model, like the myth of Leda and the Swan and are then asked to write plays that are a riff on that, using ingredients: instead of blueberries or toll house drops for cakes, the theater ingredients are, say, two feathers, two genders, two races.”

The plays that develop from the retreat, which is to take place in May, will have staged-readings in January open to the public.

Claudia Merson (pictured second row left) directs public school partnerships with Yale, operating out of the Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs. She said the template at Co-Op would be like the one that has evolved at Career High, which focuses on medicine and health sciences.

“At Career, for example,” she said, “the high school students take anatomy and then twice a month they go over to the Yale Medical School and dissect with the first-year Yale medical students. The idea is to keep on finding ways to mix Co-Ops’s students with Yale’s.”

IMG_6511.JPGThat might include an arts version of the science summer camps that Yale runs on its campus for 60 Career and other New Haven public school kids. Maybe something similar for violinists and other musicians, such as Nubia Williams, who offered one of several student performances.

Yale Associate Vice-President Michael Morand, the university’s speaker for Saturday’s occasion, said that in addition to the School of Drama’s participation with Co-Op students, the Yale University Art Gallery will help the kids learn to curate their own shows in the high school’s fabulous new gallery space.

The university’s library plans to get into the act too, especially with the Beinicke Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s holding of so many of the papers of literary and other stars of the Harlem Renaissance.

“Your campus is now our campus , and our campus is your campus,” Morand proclaimed.

IMG_6517.JPGGarcia-Blocker (squeezed with affection by two of her last year’s graduates, Alyssa Weeks and Richard Brown) said Co-Op students shadowed Shubert ushers at recent performances. They picked up tips for when they usher their own shows for the public.

That will begin as soon as April 3, when Jesus Christ Superstar baptizes, as it were, the school’s new 350-seat auditorium. Brianna Brooks (pictured between Merson and Fortenberry in top photo) is the tech manager of that show. Her colleagues, Lyndsay Cromwell (left) and Megan Kipperman have been cast as female apostles.

Later in April, on the 13th, three visual arts students will curate an exhibition at the Haskins Labs at 300 George St.

In May Co-Op’s film department will premiere the first foreign language film festival in the 80-seat state-of-the-art screening facility.

Another program program will have Co-Op student interview visiting artists at Yale. That will begin with Charles Dutton, who is to play Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman later in the spring at the Yale Rep.

“Some people disagreed,” Mayor John DeStefano quipped in his remarks, “at the wisdom of putting the school in the heart of downtown, on taxable property, and with a pricetag that maybe has helped caused the budget crisis in Hartford. But we were right. Its shows how we value our kids and the arts.”

He said the kids were fitting in fine, as will the kids from Gateway Community College. The groundbreaking for the community college’s new campus being scheduled for later in the spring one block away.

Local arts organizations, said Keith Cunnigham, Co-Op’s arts director, have been clamoring to utilize the facilities “from a year before we opened.” Those included the International Festival of Arts and Ideas and the New Haven Symphony. “But the first year,” he said, “is going to be a shakedown in which we use the facilities ourselves, to get trained in the equipment, to see how they work, and they work fabulously.”

IMG_6518.JPGA Co-Op High Art Store?
Still unclear is the use to be made of the two storefront commercial properties on College Street within the new high school. Conceived to help “activate” the street, to use architects’ lingo, the spaces are currently being readied for renters. Sue Weisselberg, the school construction coordinator, said the depressed economy has deterred prospects.

Principal Garcia-Blocker urged that whatever goes in those spaces not be food, and be in fact arts-related. A musical instrument repair store had expressed an interest, but that has faded. “If kids could work there, that would be nice,” said Weisselberg, but indicated it was too soon to speak of that.

Principal Garcia-Blocker already had an idea. Although the school has its own gallery inside, “wouldn’t it be great if one of the spaces were a store where the kids could sell their art works, CDs of their music, DVDs of their films? Why couldn’t the kids from Metropolitan Business Academy, that’s being completed on Water Street, not come up with a business plan that would work for all of us?”

Why not indeed?

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