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The Apollo Theater

In 2008, the Apollo Theater established the Oral History Project in partnership with a neighboring school, C.S. 154, the Harriet Tubman Learning Center, to help students better understand and appreciate the history of Harlem, reflect on the present and future of the community, and understand the elements of creating a theatrical production. The Apollo Theater Oral History Project leads fourth and fifth graders in a two-year sequence of interviewing neighborhood elders and transforming their life stories into creative projects in theater, music, poetry, and the visual arts. The students have conducted over 70 hours of interviews with music performers, dancers, talent scouts, comedians, business managers and owners, directors, and staff. Through interviewing members of the group the Significant Elders of Harlem, the students were able to compare and contrast events of the past and present. Students use the transcribed interviews to build theatrical vignettes, which serve as creative documentation of their subjects’ first-hand accounts of their lives and of historical events.

In creating the project, the Apollo Theater aims to provide an opportunity for students to learn about the history of Harlem during the 20th century from those who experienced it first-hand. The students and teachers are engaged in the art-making process from the selection of content to the staging of a theatrical production. Along the way, students were able to learn about a variety of careers in the theater both behind the scenes and in front of the audience. Through the Apollo Theater Oral History Project students continue to forge intergenerational relationships. While doing so, students develop a sense of responsibility and commitment to the communities around them.

For more than 75 years, the Apollo Theater has been a part of the legacy of Harlem. As one of the primary connections between Harlem’s past and present, the Apollo is at the forefront of a resurgence of arts and culture in the community as well as a forum for the exchange of social and political ideas.