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Elon in NYC: Bill Webb lights up Broadway

Students in Elon University's Elon in New York City domestic summer internship program take a four-credit-hour course called "The Streets of New York City" that requires them to study the Big Apple from the ground level so that they may develop a deeper and richer understanding of the city in which they'll live and intern until Aug. 6.

Before landing in New York, the 29 students had to choose a street, neighborhood or region of the city that they would want to examine for the duration of their summers. They’ll research the history of the area, talk to people who live or work there and generally observe the action and surroundings. At the end of the program, they’ll produce an ethnographic study that will detail their specific corner of Manhattan.

Helping them through their projects and providing unique insights about the bustling city are four faculty members, all of whom spend two focused weeks with the students. The story that follows details associate professor and performing arts and technical director for the Department of Performing Arts Bill Webb’s portion of the course.


From page to stage. That’s how Bill Webb describes his couple of weeks leading the Elon in NYC program. New York is often defined as a banking and business hub of the United States, but Webb also wants students to gain an appreciation for a city that boasts a robust entertainment industry.

Bill Webb

“We’ll do a detailed investigation on the live entertainment industry in New York,” Webb said. “The idea for my section is to give them a basic understanding of what it takes to launch a Broadway play. Who are the people involved, how do they do their work, and what is life like in New York?”

Webb will organize “talk backs” with Broadway personnel, performers, designers and technicians. He’ll take students to Shakespeare in the Park and the public theater on the first Monday to give them a quick understanding of the many people it takes to produce a show.

“This will provide students with the opportunity to understand how many different types of personnel are involved in launching a production,” Webb said. “They’ll learn what it’s like to live and breath in New York and be a theater artist.”

The next week, students will attend a showing of “Wicked” and then go on a backstage tour. They’ll also meet at the studio of William Ivey Long, a famous Broadway costume designer, and engage in other extracurricular pursuits that will include visiting museums, seeing more shows and enjoying comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade.

Webb, who’s taught at Elon for 15 years, said the Elon in New York City experience is the best part of his job, and he relishes the chance he gets to organize fun, instructional activities for the students.

“Elon in New York is the favorite thing I do for Elon University,” Webb said. “It’s the most cherished part of my job, and I value my time with the students, engaging with them in New York City for those few weeks.”

The program, he said, serves a dual purpose. Primarily, it gives students valuable, experiential education. But it also allows Webb, an arts and technical director, to engage in his own scholarship because he has the chance to see several Broadway shows and meet with production personnel.

“It’s a win-win, but it’s mostly fun to share it with the Elon students,” he said. “How much more experiential and engaged could it possibly be than living on the streets of New York, meeting with these personnel from Madison Avenue or being backstage at a Broadway production? You can’t be more experiential than that. You’re in the moment.”

Colin Donohue,
6/20/2011 9:33 AM