Urban's Theater Arts Department helps students build confidence, access creativity and practice collaboration as they engage in storytelling through the art of theater.
Through a range of classes and productions, students have opportunities to explore the various crafts of theater, as performers, writers, designers and technicians. By learning to perform for their peers in a safe environment, students build confidence and self-awareness as they develop physical poise and vocal clarity. Through improvisation, character development, circus arts, original writing and scenic design, students access creativity and explore multiple modes of self-expression. Throughout our program, students practice collaboration, from in-class work with partners to full ensemble productions, and actively engage in empathy -- both with their artistic partners and with the dramatic characters they encounter.
Our program accommodates students with no performing experience, as well as those interested in pursuing theater professionally. Foundational classes introduce artistic habits of mind and give students opportunities to explore the elements of theater in low-risk environments. Advanced classes train students in a range of performance techniques and expose them to the uses of dramatic tools in wider community settings. Our production classes mount two major productions each year, a play and a musical, and the year ends with a festival of short plays written and directed by Urban Seniors. Urban is also one of the few high schools in the country to offer a circus arts course.
The Urban Theater Program teaches skills and mindsets relevant to a range of social and professional contexts. We emphasize and encourage the development of: confidence and self-awareness; creativity, improvisation and risk-taking; collaboration, empathy and ensemble; technical craft and problem-solving; as well as curiosity and flexibility. We seek to offer students avenues for personal exploration and creative expression, and opportunities to connect theatrical work to larger social concerns. We also expose students to a range of professional performance that demonstrates virtuosity, ingenuity and cultural breadth. For students who seek to pursue ongoing theatrical studies, we promote the habits, skills and knowledge necessary for collegiate or technical studies in theater.
Urban Advanced Studies (UAS) classes in Theater are designed to sharpen students’ theatrical skills and widen their perspectives on applying them. This work includes the pursuit of physical and vocal control, ability to self-reflect and work collaboratively, and capacity to portray complex characters and circumstances. Students study a wide variety of theatrical techniques, styles and contexts, and are expected to execute sophisticated physical and conceptual work with care and discipline. All UAS classes culminate in public performances.
Students taking UAS Theater classes are expected to build on foundational concepts and skills, to develop nuanced analysis and sophisticated performance across a variety of styles. Students in UAS production classes must demonstrate skills in acting, singing and/or dancing, and be prepared to actively participate in demanding rehearsals beyond the school day. Students enrolled in the UAS Theater in Community course should be prepared to rigorously apply theatrical techniques to the pursuit of community development, therapeutic and/or social justice goals.
Theater 1: Playing Characters (Including Yourself) introduces students to the skills and habits of mind required for performance. Students will engage in theater games, improvisation, physical and vocal exercises, character development, original playwriting, scene study and monologue performance. Through these activities, students will increase their confidence in front of an audience, build greater physical and vocal awareness, enhance their observational skills, and develop their ability to reflect on their creative process. In cooperation with peers, they will gain greater access to their creativity and spontaneity, improve their ability to work collaboratively, and express themselves through writing and performance. We will take field trips to local professional shows, where students explore the elements and choices that make up a theatrical production, and become familiar with a variety of performance styles. This class serves as prerequisite for all advanced theater classes. (1/2 credit)
Circus Techniques teaches students to communicate with their bodies and broaden their physical vocabulary by developing skills in a variety of traditional circus arts. Basic acrobatic, juggling and trapeze skills teach students timing, spatial orientation and coordination. Forward rolls, headstands and handstands form the core of the acrobatic practice, and students then build creatively on that foundation. We look at the history of circus and how circus arts are integrated into contemporary performance. Work in circus arts requires both discipline and imagination and provides a strong foundation for anyone interested in pushing limits, expanding creativity and exploring spontaneity. The course culminates in a circus performance that is developed entirely in class time for the school community and public. No previous experience required. (1/2 credit)
Peer Education Theater asks students to write and perform regularly through a constant stream of journal prompts and performance projects. Students mine their lived experiences and imaginations daily to produce solo and group scenes for the stage. The group practices a series of specific listening and witnessing skills, as well as collaborative decision making in group projects. The ensemble acquires stagecraft through regular improvisation and exercises for body and voice. In the second half of the term, focus shifts toward the production of a show, where students compile a script from their original written work and collective visions. The course concludes in a series of performances and community discussions. Prerequisite: An acting class or instructor approval. New Peer Resource students are required to take this course in their Sophomore year. (1/2 credit)
Musical Theater Production (Fall) is a full-scale ensemble production in collaboration with the music program at Urban. We spend approximately 10 weeks in rehearsal, culminating in public performances in the Gumption Theater. Production work may involve guest artists in choreography, design and instrumental accompaniment. This class requires an understanding and ability to engage in acting and singing techniques, as well as strong dedication, energy and mutual support. Students will analyze and rehearse a scripted musical, including engaging in rigorous practice of acting, singing and dancing, both in rehearsal and independently. In addition, students will explore the themes of the show and regularly reflect on personal progress. Please note that this class includes rehearsals after school three days a week throughout the term, and every afternoon during Weeks 9-11. Students may not participate in an Urban fall sport while taking this class. Prerequisite: Intro to Urban Singers or Theater 1. (1/2 credit)
Theater Production (Winter) is an advanced acting class that stages a full-scale ensemble production. We spend approximately 10 weeks in rehearsal, culminating in public performances in the Gumption Theater. This class requires an understanding and ability to engage in acting technique, as well as strong dedication, energy and mutual support. Students will analyze and rehearse a scripted play, engage in research on the play’s themes, apply writings by theater professionals, and regularly reflect on personal progress. Students will also engage with creative work in other aspects of production, including design, construction and publicity. Please note that this class includes rehearsals after school three days a week throughout the term, and every afternoon during Weeks 9-11. Students may not participate in an Urban winter sport while taking this class. Prerequisite: Theater 1 or Musical Theater Production. (1/2 credit)
UAS Theater, Social Change and Community links performance to larger societal issues and explores how theater is used to reflect and impact communities. The course examines how theater dramatizes social tensions, activates empathy across difference, and imagines ways forward. Students will study examples of protest theater and docudrama, trends in community-based performance, and approaches used in therapeutic and correctional contexts, and then apply these models to original dramatic work. Students will design structured improvisations, experiment with first-person spoken word, and create interview-based documentary scenes for community performance. Prerequisite: Theater 1, Peer Education Theater, or Sophomore Service Learning. (½ credit that can count toward art requirement)
One Act Festival is an advanced theater seminar that produces the spring One Act Festival. The Festival is a student-run production with opportunities for students to participate as writers, actors, directors, producers, or designers. Those Seniors interested in writing a play eligible for inclusion in the festival will develop work over the winter term in a required U1 Playwriting class. Playwrights will meet deadlines, revise drafts, and, ultimately, complete a stage-ready script by March. Seniors interested in directing, designing, or producing must enroll in the spring One Act Festival. Seminar participants will attend weekly production meetings and a series of workshops on directing techniques, as well as hold auditions, and organize and direct their own rehearsals. The class culminates in the annual One Act Festival, with public performances in May. The number of participants will be limited. (Seniors Only) (1/2 credit)
Courses Offered in Alternative Years
UAS Theater 2 follows the basic groundwork established in Theater 1. This class takes the next step in developing a strong and flexible acting technique. Through the continuation of the Practical Aesthetics technique introduced in the Theater 1 class using the textbooks, The Practical Handbook for Actors and The Monologue Audition, actors will continue to experiment with dramatic action in a variety of applications including: scripted scene study, improvisation, original scene study, monologue and audition work. Special attention will be given to the audition process, and each student will prepare and rehearse two audition pieces. In addition, directing techniques will be introduced. A selection of playwrights and their work will be studied as presented by the scene study projects. Prerequisite: Theater 1 or Musical Theater Production. (1/2 credit)