While student theater groups abound at NYU, only one group caters specifically to young audiences. This group calls itself NYU Lamplighters.
According to Emily Carpenter, Gallatin junior and current president of the club, the founders set out to make theater that was free and easily accessible to children.
“We identified a need for young people’s theater and for educational theater,” she said.
NYU Lamplighters is a student-run theater group that performs live shows specifically targeted for people under 18. In the past six years, the organization has grown “exponentially” according to Steinhardt senior and Lamplighters director Eric Gelb, and the members are continuously working on new techniques to appeal to wider audiences, along with outreach initiatives to connect with children outside of NYU. Gelb reflected on the group’s growth and on his personal experience.
When he started, he said 30 people attended the show, which filled the room’s capacity.
“It was very ragtag in a really good way,” Gelb said.
He said about 120 students auditioned for the most recent show, “Beauty and the Beast.” In auditions, said Gelb, the group gives prominence the impact of its outreach programs. They are not interested in self-promotion.
“This opportunity is not for you to be the best Lumiere or Belle or Mrs. Potts, but it’s to use as a gift that you’ve been given and make it into something positive and not self-fulfilling,” Gelb said.
The group also places great emphasis on diversity, aiming to inspire young performers and provide them with a supportive environment to express themselves freely.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, what background you’re from, that this is a place where everyone is welcome,” Gelb said.
While many assume that children’s theater consists solely of children’s stories, the group tries to appeal to adults in the audience as well. The Lamplighters will put on shows that they feel are appropriate for children and have a message worth sharing with all audiences. Previous shows have included “The Cat in the Hat” and “Legally Blonde.”
The group performs at the Kimmel Center for University Life and at public schools throughout the city. Carpenter explained that the cast not only performs for kids, but also engages with them through games and exercises.
“It’s a different and very, very cool and personal way to get involved with kids in an educational theater setting,” Carpenter said.
This year, Gelb says he eats, sleeps and breathes NYU Lamplighters. After graduation, he is going to work for Disney, and he credits Lamplighters for helping him build the work ethic that has got him to where he is now.
“I am like this because of Lamplighters,” he said.
As Gelb moves on to bigger and better things, new members like Steinhardt first-year Alex Oleksy are just beginning their journey with the club. Oleksy, who is currently stage manager, said that his goal is to be a teacher or to direct and produce shows that are educational in some capacity. He thinks joining Lamplighters is a good way to start and that he is learning a lot from Gelb.
Carpenter started out as the secretary, and was eventually offered the position of director. “I jumped at the opportunity, and said yes,” she recalls.
She said that the leadership role has had a large impact on her plans for the future, as she is now seriously considering pursuing a career as a teaching artist.
Moving forward, the group will continue to reach out to children in schools around the city. They even plan to bring the kids to NYU and give them the opportunity to perform with NYU actors.
“We’re just so much more than ever before, we’re actually engaging with young people, and I think that’s absolutely incredible,” Carpenter said.
For those interested in auditioning, Carpenter said that they look for excitement, enthusiasm, kindness and passion.
Though they recruit cast members for performances, the group also collaborates with student makeup artists, choreographers and engineers — so there’s a place for all kinds of talent.
The Lamplighter’s next performances are Nov. 8 and 9 at the Rosenthal Pavilion.
Email Dani Herrera at [email protected]