Broadway Utica’s Reach Expands Beyond CNY

October 6, 2022

Broadway Utica’s Reach Expands Beyond CNY

In ancient Greece, theater signified the “setting or the place of seeing,” and it attracted a community of people who sought escape from their everyday lives. It’s versatility, dance, and narration attracted audiences from outside the area, making it considered an essential part of the community. That attribute still holds true today, as Broadway Utica continues to draw audiences beyond its regional base.

For 21 years, Carrie Montague-Barrett, English teacher and Theater Advisor at Beaver River Central School, has devoted her time and resources to making theater an integral part of her students’ education.

“When I first started teaching for our district I attended a seminar on breaking the cycle of poverty, which emphasized the impact of cultural experiences. As someone from outside of the area, I recognized Castorland’s rural atmosphere; the single movie theater that played one show a day, the closest city an hour away, and the K-12 building that held less than 1,000 students. Musical theater and the arts had always been my passion. So, I immediately thought about offering students the opportunity to see a Broadway play. I thought if I got something out of it, these kids might too.”

Barrett sought out students who were interested, and held fundraisers, including a car wash and a chicken barbeque, to secure funding. In exchange, she was able to take 20 students to New York City to see The Nutcracker.

“Watching students experience the lights, stage, and surprise of the theater awoke something inside me; almost as if I were experiencing everything for the first time. I knew I was on to something larger, so I did all I could to raise funds so more students could have this opportunity. Two years later, we expanded our reach and attended Miss Saigon and BLAST on Broadway.”

Soon after that, a friend invited Barrett to a Broadway Utica show.

“I’m originally from Florida, so I wasn’t aware that Broadway Utica or The Stanley Theatre existed. But as soon as I saw the building and the immaculate designs and intricate details within it, I immediately thought of my students. I knew they needed to see this. I researched upcoming shows and began fundraising in hopes of taking them to a show.”

To Barrett’s surprise, the students raised enough money to see four shows – a precedent that still exists fifteen years later.

“These kids get so much from this experience. Their eyes light up as we drive through Utica and pull up to The Stanley, and they continue to shine as they walk through the lobby and take in all the details. They’re always amazed that something as beautiful as The Stanley and Broadway musicals exists so far from New York City. After the show, the bus is always full of questions, comments, and singing!”

Despite the hour and a half ride home, the student’s excitement doesn’t seem to dissipate.

“The day after a show the students rush to my room, eager to research facts. After Hairspray, students wanted to learn about Baltimore, the civil rights movement, and the real dance show Hairspray was based on. They come to lunch study hall and will ask to watch the Tony performance of Waitress and learn about Sara Bareilles, or they want to spend weeks listening to The Jersey Boys soundtrack. For Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the students became fascinated with reproductions and the use of digital technology within the theater. Students are encapsulated by these shows, but also by what these shows offer. They set different expectations for them as students and upcoming young professionals.”

Barrett’s passion for theater and her students goes beyond the stage. As productions line up, Barrett has already challenged those attending Annie to invite a younger student.

“As important as it is for my students to experience theater, it’s also important to provide them with an opportunity to introduce theater to someone else – someone who will remember this moment and learn that nothing is out of their reach.”

Barrett has also sacrificed her time, personally driving a student selected for Broadway Utica’s Youth Ambassador program to every meeting and performance to ensure they didn’t miss a beat.

“I’ve had students fall in love with musicals and the arts because of these experiences. I even have a student who became a stage manager for Broadway. Whatever direction my students take, I like to know that I played a role in their lives and provided opportunities that disminished limitations.”

A giant billboard filled with former theater tickets hangs in Barrett’s classroom. It’s a visual reminder of all she’s seen and done with her students, and a message of hope and possibilities for every new students who enters her room.

“This was my passion project. I never imagined it would still be here 21 years later. I’m grateful for all that my students and I have gotten out of this.”


Interview and Article by T.K. Millo & Co. 


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