Every year, Stuyvesant’s seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen join to perform and compete in Stuyvesant’s beloved theatrical tradition: SING! The production belongs to the students, who write it, direct it, act in it; design the sets, costumes, and props; and plan and perform all the music. Because it is a student-run production, the students often spend hours in the preceding weeks painstakingly managing each aspect of the performances, detracting from time that could be spent working, relaxing, or sleeping. Teachers see the effects in their classrooms every day, and have to teach their often lethargic and distracted students without necessarily alleviating the double workload of rehearsals and homework.
Though SING! can cause additional stress for students and teachers alike, many teachers recognize that it is an important part of Stuyvesant’s culture. While teachers have minimal involvement in the creative process of SING!, they still contribute to Stuyvesant’s biggest event of the year.
The main role that teachers play in SING! is as faculty advisors. Chemistry teacher Michael Orlando, who has been a faculty advisor for three years, agreed that the emphasis is on the students putting on a production. “My primary role is supervisory—to make sure they don’t hurt each other, don’t do things they’re not supposed to do, make sure if they get hurt someone is there to help them,” Orlando said. Besides serving his legal obligation and offering advice, Orlando spends his time watching as the students put together a near-professional production.
Spanish teacher, Robert Weldon, who has a degree in theater from the North Carolina School of the Arts, has something else to add to the process. Weldon acted as a faculty advisor for the first time last year, and returned this year because he enjoyed being part of the production. “I was a professional actor before I became a teacher, so at the very end I may give them notes, advice and maybe some things that perhaps they don’t see or they’re not aware of,” Weldon said. “But really it’s very hands-off. The whole point of this project is that that everything is generated from the students and I’m all for that.”
Many teachers express pride in the production, which is well known as one of the defining aspects of life at Stuyvesant. However, others feel contempt for the tradition, expressing some frustration at the amount of work students, put into SING!, sometimes to the neglect of their schoolwork. Whether a teacher is sympathetic or indifferent, rarely will students see their workloads lessen during even the final weeks of SING!.
Students’ commitment can also distract from their focus on studies, not just take time away from doing homework. Many students put school second in the months of SING!, and it is quickly noticed by their teachers. “I think it is in some ways, it is annoying as a teacher when you are in class … and you know that many students have their focuses elsewhere,” English teacher Mark Henderson said.
Even teachers intimately involved in the production note that SING! has the potential to be a major distraction. “It’s fun. Is it always the best thing they could be doing with their time? No. Are there some kids who do SING! who have higher priorities that they’re not fulfilling? Yes. But on net, I would say it’s a positive thing.” Orlando said.
Although SING! remains time-consuming and tempers remain short, teachers did comment on how much shorter, and more organized, the process has recently become. Assistant Principal of Music, Art, and Technology, Dr. Ray Wheeler, recalled how SING! used to be less structured, less organized and take longer. Since then, the process has been much improved. “It makes sense, the way it is structured … [it] only [lasts] so many weeks,” Wheeler said of the new time frame. While the new schedule has made it difficult for students to plan how to finish and perfect their productions, it does reduce the amount of homework and study time potentially lost to SING!
Another measure that the administration has put in place to prevent students from devoting time to SING! at the expense of schoolwork is to monitor how students are doing, and removing them from SING! if their grades are too low. Much to the chagrin of the participants, the administration now prevents students from participating in SING! based on report card grades. Sometimes, instead of directly removing the student from the production, the administration notifies the teachers that a student is at risk of being removed. In that case, the teacher has some ability to recommend whether the student should just receive a warning, or removed from SING! entirely.
Despite some objections, teachers recognize the significance of SING! as a staple of the Stuyvesant community. Computer Science teacher, Peter Brooks, takes his two daughters to see SING! every year. “They love it” said Brooks, “I’m always blown away.” Henderson, too, sees how SING! fosters a rare sense of school unity, in a community of over 3000 pupils. “It gathers together parts of the school that otherwise [are] not meeting and talking to each other … and the shows are always great.” Henderson said. “It feels to me like an important and amazing part of what it means to be in Stuyvesant.”