At the front of a classroom of the High School of Fashion Industries, in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, a dozen students, all girls, are seated in a semi-circle. This is an English class, and their regular teacher, Dr. Maryam Habibian, sits near the windows while Brigitte Barnett-Loftis, a teaching-artist from Lincoln Center Theater's Open Stages High School Program, presses the Play button on a portable music player.
Out comes the lush voice of Jose Carreras singing "Some Enchanted Evening," from South Pacific. Barnett-Loftis lets the girls listen for a minute, then asks them to describe what they've heard.
"It's romantic," one of the students says. "It reminds me of the love story in the Titanic movie."
"The voice sounds like something from another time," says another girl. "From the 19th century -- or before."
Barnett-Loftis, one of the Open Stages' 16 teaching-artists, who work with 30 teachers in 15 public high schools around the city, then plays "Some Enchanted Evening" again, this time in a rendition by Dean Martin. (The girls aren't told who's singing.)
"It's romantic in another way," one of students says. "It reminds me of the 'Like a Boy' video where Beyonce gets together with Sean Paul."
The girls then look at the "Some Enchanted Evening" lyrics, and analyze their rhyme scheme. Next, they talk about what "staging" means. Almost as quickly as it started, the class is over: the girls have been engaged by their subject the whole session and the time has flown.
The class was one of the three pre-show and one post-show workshops that students will have before they -- and hundreds of their New York City peers -- converge on Lincoln Center Theater next Wednesday, May 14, for a matinee of South Pacific.
One more reminder that the vibrant offstage life of this production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical involves much more than what goes on in the dressing rooms, the Open Stages program has been in existence since 1991. (For further details, click on the Education button on this website's home page.)
"One of the things I love about Open Stages," says Kati Koerner, LCT's Director of Education, "is that I keep being surprised. For example, you might not expect that Awake and Sing!" - LCT's 2006 revival of a Clifford Odets play about a family in the Bronx during the Depression - "would necessarily be of interest to our students. But they loved it! Especially the 1930s slang."
Koerner adds that LCT's actors also find the student feedback useful. "They tell me that the students' responses at the matinees help them locate new things to think about in the show."
No surprise there: Students who can make convincing associations between Beyonce and Dean Martin are insightful - and then some.