Hamtramck High School wins $10K theater grant

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Hamtramck High School is one of 50 high schools across America to win a $10,000 grant for its theater program.

On Monday, NBC’s R.I.S.E. (Recognizing and Inspiring Student Expression) America awarded $500,000 to high school theater programs across the country. The grant program was inspired by the NBC’s upcoming drama “Rise,” premiering March 13, about a high school theater department.

Grant officials said each $10,000 grant will cover critical needs of each school’s theater program — from production expenses to technical equipment and master classes.

Chris Vraniak, Hamtramck High principal, confirmed Monday the school — which started its first drama program last fall — won a grant.

Students were informed Monday afternoon with a surprise announcement in the school’s auditorium along with teacher Nancy Walter and long-term substitute teacher Kit Parks, who leads the drama club.

“We are extremely excited and really grateful,” Vraniak said.

The grant money will be used to create a script library for the students and to take them to different theater experiences to build knowledge, Vraniak said.

“We had 55 students come out for drama this year. They are dedicated and really consistently involved. They built their set all day on Saturday. People are very very excited,” he said.

The school’s drama club will be presenting its first production, “Beauty is a Beast,” March 21. “We will learn how a frustrated fairy godmother tries to help a beautiful princess be as lovely inside as she is outside,” the club’s Facebook page says.

Hamtramck High was chosen from among 1,000 applications. It has about 988 students.

To qualify, high schools were required to have an existing theater program or a champion of theater arts in their teaching staff in cases where a school’s theater program was cut because of budget constraints, program officials said.

Each school submitted a video celebrating its theater program and a 500-word essay explaining why the school should be awarded the grant and how the theater program will use the $10,000 should they win. They also submitted a letter of recommendation from a school principal or administrator.

NBC is in partnership with the Education Theatre Foundation, a nonprofit organization, for the grant program. Seeing the need school-by-school was both inspiring and a wake-up call, said Julie Cohen Theobald, foundation president.

“The way these dedicated educators are impacting kids’ lives, against the odds and without the necessary resources, is heroic,” Theobald said.

Jason Katims, executive producer of “Rise,” said it was a “dream come true for me” that the show will have a genuine impact on 50 high school drama programs throughout the country.