JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Eric Bragg of Fulton County’s River Trail Middle School was one of eight exceptional educators from schools and performing arts centers around the country selected to participate in the fourth annual Freddie G Broadway Experience.
It is a four-day whirlwind program in which Bragg was allowed to pick the brains of top Broadway professionals during workshops and seminars about the theater.
The event is underwritten by Myrna and Freddie (“Freddie G”) Gershon, chairman and CEO of the leading theatrical licensor Music Theatre International (MTI). The weekend honors instructors and teachers who are working to make a difference for their students and communities through the process of staging musical theater productions in their schools and educational theater groups.
For Bragg, it was an experience he says he will never forget. Anyone involved in theater in America knows the center of the drama world is on Broadway. He has been captivated by the theater ever since he was in third grade and saw the local high school production of “Charlotte’s Web.”
“I just was thrilled with it all. I promised myself that when I was in middle school and high school I would get involved in the theater program, and that’s what I did,” Bragg said.
And he has never left it. He began his career as an elementary school teacher in 2003 and founded the after-school program at Creek View Elementary. His efforts at Creek View were recognized with a Teacher of the Year nomination and NBC’s prestigious Class Act Award in 2006.
That drew the attention of a River Trail assistant principal in 2007, who asked Bragg to fill the vacancy when the drama teacher left.
Dozens of educators attending the 2013 Junior Theater Festival applied for the Freddie G program, and eight were selected.
The Junior Theater Festival is a theater competition conducted over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in which middle and high school theater groups from all around the country come to perform a 15-minute segment of particular play.
The judges, who are Broadway professionals, give the students individual feedback on their performances. Then they lead workshops for students and educators. The weekend is topped off by a show at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre.
For the educators, there is the opportunity to be chosen as a recipient of the Freddie G Broadway Experience, all expenses paid.
“We get to take classes and we get to sit down with people like Stephen Schwartz who wrote the music for ‘Wicked,’” Bragg said. “A couple of other teachers were the director, composer and lyricist for ‘A Christmas Story,’ which just got nominated for a Tony.
“We worked with the choreographer for ‘Cinderella,’ Josh Rhodes, that is on Broadway right now. The quality and the level of talent that worked with us while we were in New York were just extraordinary,” Bragg said. “We were very lucky.”
The chance to work with those people and get a whiff of Broadway greasepaint was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments, but apart from that it did something more, he said.
“Freddie and MTI really made us feel validated and important to the future of the art,” Bragg said. “It is really easy to feel vested in our own program and feel isolated in that what we really do does not really matter to New York and to Broadway professionals.
“They really showed us just how significant we are to them. It was just very humbling to have them tell us how we as educators are keeping theater alive,” Bragg said.
That is precisely why Gershon and his wife Myrna began the Freddie G Broadway Experience.
“I feel strongly about personally investing in these teachers by immersing them in experiential skills they can take home and share with students and other teachers,” said Gershon. “It’s crucial we keep theater alive in this country by working with both educators and children. Myrna and I feel that America’s teachers should be honored and appreciated. Our future is in their hands.”
In addition to the New York experience, River Trail Middle School received $5,000 from the Gershons to enhance their arts program.
Bragg has been the award-winning director of numerous films that were entered in the Georgia Movie Academy state film competition and was a national finalist in Sony’s Technology in Motion film competition.
He was also nominated for Teacher of the Year again in 2012. Since moving to Georgia, he and some partners have formed Red Phoenix Productions to produce their own theater work and involve students from all over Atlanta.
“These teachers do inspiring work with limited financial resources,” Gershon said. “We wanted to give them the opportunity to live the Broadway experience and interact with top professionals to reward them for all they do to introduce the next generations to Broadway and musical theater.”