Pellissippi State theatre students experience lights of Broadway

What began as an attempt to expand the theatre going experience of students at Pellissippi State Technical Community College’s Blount County Center turned into a semester-long education in fund-raising and persistence this past winter and spring.

By the time the college’s Blount County–based Dorothy Donaldson, associate professor of Theatre, and Betsy Boyd, counselor, accompanied six theatre students to New York City in May, the students had mastered lessons in economics and teamwork that will almost certainly be applied to future endeavors.

“It was a lot of fun for them to be able to go to New York and experience a different culture and see some of the attractions and a play,” said Donaldson, who is advisor of the Blount County Center Drama Club.

“But the larger experience was in learning the leadership skills and teamwork necessary to raise money to be able to go.”

The idea for the trip originated with Sabrina Runyon, a student in one of Donaldson’s classes and president of the Drama Club.

“Sabrina said in January, ‘We’re going to go to New York,’ and she started planning and making phone calls,” Donaldson said. “At first I didn’t believe we could go, because of the cost.”

Once Pellissippi State administrators signed off on the project, however, Runyon began recruiting. Eventually, 20 students were showing up for the weekly club meetings. Twelve students signed up for the trip, and a goal of $4,000 was set to fund an excursion of three days and nights.

As a result of job and family commitments, only six of the 12 made the trip, but the larger group remained intact for fund-raising activities throughout the semester.

“It turned out to be eight and a half weeks of work, much more than I expected,” said Donaldson, “but once I saw the students’ determination, I knew we had to do it.

“And it was a lot of fun. We sold doughnuts and coffee. We had a yard sale, we sold candy, we had a car wash—it was incredible. People who thought they could go and others who knew they couldn’t worked together to make it happen.”

Some fund-raising activities were more profitable than others, but the group eventually raised $3,000 and traveled to New York in a Pellissippi State van.

“We left on a Monday morning around 7 a.m. and got there that night,” Donaldson said.

The next day, the group saw the Empire State Building and the American Museum of Natural History and took in a game at Yankee Stadium. The final day’s activities included a trip to the Statue of Liberty and a visit to 9/11’s Ground Zero. The trip culminated with seeing the Broadway musical “Wicked.”

“We went to see a play on Broadway, but to see the city and the culture and the theatres—the sights and smells and all—that was quite an experience for everyone!” Donaldson said.

The trip was so successful that Pellissippi State administrators have asked for a template of the planning and work that went into the project to give to other student clubs.

“I have students already talking about other trips like this. We know we can do it if we did this one.”

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