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Living Voices: The New American

Approximately 1,600 fourth and fifth grade students from schools across Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties entered an auditorium which had only a large movie screen and an empty stool on stage.  Many of the youngsters were bewildered because this was not typical for a TheatreWorks performance.  No elaborate, colorful set.  No lively music.  No actors.  No stage manager.

Then Rachael McClinton from Seattle, Washington, appeared and introduced herself as the writer and performer of The New American.  The New American is a dynamic one-woman historical program that blends video, audio, live dramatic performance and interactive discussion.

The audience was captivated as Rachael transformed -- with a strong and authentic Irish accent -- into Bridget Rose Fitzgerald.  This young Irish girl dramatically described her steamship journey from Ireland to Ellis Island.  The audience was shocked to learn the details of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911.  Archival film footage gave the audience a chance to understand how the world looked, sounded and felt during a significant time in history.

The performer used history to create a moving, personal journey about immigration and the meaning of liberty and opportunity.

After the show, Fourth Grade Teacher Bill Delity from Ellicottville Central School commented, “Loved it!  What a great way to tie in the study of immigration.”

The production’s curriculum connections reached beyond social studies and included creative writing and theatre as well.  And most importantly, it worked.  The New American made history personal and relevant to the students.  Although Bridget was a fictitious character, she and her story became very real.  During the interactive discussion portion of the show, many students asked questions about what might have happened next to her family and friends.  They wanted Bridget’s story to continue. 

There were so many raised hands the performer didn’t have the time to respond to all of the students.  She concluded by suggesting the students begin creating their own unique, personal life story.  She encouraged them to talk to their family members, to read, to write, and to travel as much as possible.

Bolivar-Richburg, Franklinville and Arcade Elementary opened their auditoriums to host this powerful multi-media performance.  Teachers also prepared their students well by utilizing the classroom activities provided by Living Voices/TheatreWorks USA.  The study guides supplemented the teachers’ curriculum goals.

Living Voices has partnered with Theatreworks as one of their Managed Artists.  Living Voices has performed more than 50,000 shows across the country since 1992.  The New American was the first Living Voices offering to come to the Cattaraugus/Allegany County region.

The New American marked the fifth performance of the school year contracted by Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES.  CABOCES Arts-In-Education helps schools enrich the lives of their students by providing opportunities to experience the performing arts.  TheatreWorks USA is a professional acting company based out of New York City.  It is America’s largest and most prolific professional theatre for young audiences. 

For more information about bringing Living Voices ( and/or TheatreWorks ( shows to your area, contact Student Programs at 716-376-8284.