The premise of NBC's Rise is a bit like Disney's High School Musical. Except the teens probably are less stereotypical (think "jocks" and "theater geeks,") and more relatable, and it focuses less on a battle of the cliques and more on the power of community. In particular, the power of a an encouraging and supportive theater department.
Therein lies more of that relatability factor. High school theater departments like Seaside High school's program have been a support system for many students. Specifically, in Seaside High School's case, a resource of social inclusion and confidence-building for students in the LGBTQ+ community.
And it's those kind of communities that build confident young people that the grant program Recognizing and Inspiring Student Expression America (RISE America) wanted to help.
In January, RISE America, which was inspired by the NBC show, put out the call to high school theaters across the country to make the case for their theater departments. A total of $500,000 was divided up into $10,000 grants for 50 high school theater programs nationwide, and Seaside High is one of the 50 selected.
To be selected, high schools had to send in a short 500-word essay as well as a two-minute video describing the need for the funding.
In Seaside High's submission, participants of Seaside High Dramatic Arts spoke to their identities and creative expression. Many, according to Seaside High Drama teacher River Navaille, are people of color and identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, who find it hard to fit in and express themselves in other programs.
But they also spoke about the lack of equipment, the shared classrooms and gyms that they had to practice in because the school's lack of theater infrastructure.
Navaille says that hopefully with the money—plus "a lot of elbow grease"—a room can be retrofitted with a stage.
For now, the students have made do without. For example, a recent production of Romeo and Juliet took place in an outdoor stairwell. "A lot of creativity comes from not having a space," Navaille says.
Despite the lack of traditional infrastructure, the play was well received. "Members of the audience came up to me saying that they had never seen anything like that," Navaille says. "They really enjoyed it."
Though they've made progress within the constraints, a permanent space remains the end goal. Navaille acknowledges that the grant money is not enough to build a theater from the ground up, but it could still go far.
"I don't want to speak to soon," Navaille says, "but this may just be enough money to fix up an old classroom."