On Wednesday April 5th, Mr. Powers, Mr. Felix and the seniors at WHSAD were on their way to The Park Avenue Armory to see Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape. A week prior to the show, 30 seniors were prepped for the experience by two professional teaching artists Vicki Turner and Neil Pritchard. In this pre-show gathering, the teaching artists prepped the students by letting them freely discuss the ideas of class, social structures, and the belonging that we feel as a part of any group. The students explored these essential “hairy ape” concepts by reading lines from the play, proposing possibilities of what the concept of the play could be about, and engaging in improvisation activities.
After these prep sessions, the seniors were greeted in the grand hall of the historic Park Avenue Armory by a dozen teaching artists awaiting the arrival of their own school groups. They were escorted upstairs into a brightly lit white room in which the students would later have lunch and post-workshop exercises. The Drill Hall was set up with upwards of 150 vibrant yellow chairs in bleacher formation. As our students entered, the image of the stage and design had taken every one of them captivated. With a rotating platform, the scenes morphed from simple, to complex, to abstract, to blank. The actors interacted seamlessly with the platform using it to walk in place, to speed up, or to slow down. The bangs of the early industrial era of Chicago and New York City echoed through the Drill Hall, causing scores of students and chaperones alike to jump from their seats. The audience followed one character’s journey to find belonging through the bowels of a ship, onto 5th Avenue in Manhattan, into the middle class intellectual clubs, and finally into a cage at what could have only been the Bronx Zoo. Throughout the character’s journey, abstract lights, movement, sound, and roaring dialogue carried our students through this experience.
The post-show workshop allowed students to discuss the meaning behind the artist Eugene O’Neill’s abstract representations. In the form of poses, self-public awareness poetry and pizza. Fun was had by all, and all were thankful for the Park Avenue Armory for having us once again in their historic space. To learn more about The Hairy Ape performance, please click here.