Read All About It: History Students Support Newsies, Jr. Musical

U.S. History students provided the cast and crew with historical context as they prepared for the musical production.

By Molly Bridenbaugh
January 12, 2023
"How can we, history students, ensure audiences have the context information needed to understand the production of Newsies, Jr. at Franklin Middle School?"

When we picked Newsies Jr. for our winter musical for this year there was an immediate conversation between Ms. Bridenbaugh and Ms. Hoffman about the multiple cross curricular opportunities that this show would provide. Newsies Jr, set in 1899 and telling the story of how a small group of young children formed a union, came together and went on strike to demand a change in working conditions from powerful newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, fits perfectly into the 7th grade US History curriculum.

In the theatre world there is a role called a dramaturg, this is a person who helps provide historical context to a production.  Helping the cast and production staff understand the world that they are stepping into, and often preparing something educational for the audience, a blurb in the program or a display in the lobby to help provide context. As part of making cross curricular connections, Ms. Bridenbaugh and Ms. Sullivan’s US History II classes stepped into a dramaturg role, undertaking a PBL to create a lobby display for our audience about the world of Newsies.

This started with a history lesson for the cast.  While our 8th grade students had learned about the Gilded Age and the turn of the 19th century last year, our 7th grade ensemble members were not yet there in their classes.  They explored primary sources, photographs, and topics of the era relevant to their characters.  Then our cast and crew decided what they thought was the most important history information for our audience to have reference information about.  Our history classes then took those topics and started a research project in order to dig deeper and find more information to share with the audience.  

To get started, our history classes went to the library for a lesson from Mrs. Ruffle on developing research questions to help us further our thinking.  Students learned about open and closed ended questions and how to turn a question from open to closed or closed to open ended.  We learned how to both broaden and narrow the scope of our research.  Then students dug into the  driving question of “how can we, history students, ensure audiences have the context information needed to understand the production of Newsies Jr. at Franklin Middle School?”

Students then independently researched topics before coming together in small groups to share out their findings.  As a group, students decided what was the most important information that our audience needed to know and charted out what they wanted to include in their lobby display.  Students then created the text, found images, and provided the context around their topic.

Each group then collaborated to create a display that will hang in the lobby of the theatre during the duration of our performances.  This will allow our audience to preview the world of Newsies and become immersed in turn of the century New York City before the overture begins.  Student volunteers  are also going to be present to act as dramaturges in the lobby of each show.  These students will be available to answer audience questions and have conversations about their work with all who come to see the show.


Project Based Learning: U.S. History Dramaturg Project