by Chad Campbell
I will always be excited to watch a television program that champions musical theatre. As someone who watched SMASH & Glee, I wasn’t sure what Rise would bring to the table that these two didn't, but it quickly became clear that there will be much more emotional depth and real-life scenarios being played out on screen without a side of camp.
Welcome to Stanton: a steel town where high school football plays a major role…and theatre certainly does not. When Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor) takes over the school drama department from Tracy Wolfe (Rosie Perez), he hopes to find artistic fulfillment within himself, as well as inspire the inner artists in many of his students by producing Spring Awakening. But, of course with any good television show, there are obstacles that arise in the personal and professional lives of all those involved.
In an era where the current White House administration is proposing an elimination to the funding of major arts organizations, I think Rise is coming at an important time. Do I realistically think it will make a massive impact? No. But if the messages in this show can help even a small percentage of Americans realize the importance of arts education, then it’s not just a new weekly form of entertainment. There is one scene where Perez’s character argues for arts funding, comparing it to the funding of sports, and I hope that it will make people think about what is going on at their local high schools. As a public school graduate, myself, I definitely remember the importance sports played at my school, including a levy that many community members voted to renew, generating over $7 million to create a new sports complex; I can only imagine the kind of impact that amount of money would have had on our arts education.
One of the biggest joys I’ve received from watching Rise thus far has been reliving the memories of when I got to play Melchior in college. My director was very adamant about using our Spring Awakening production as an impetus for important discussions within the cast and on campus about depression, sexuality, suicide and other issues, particularly amongst teens. Similarly, I hope that with a major network television show touching on these topics, it will help create an open line of discussion for kids and their parents about some of these difficult issues.
After getting a sneak peak of Rise, I am definitely adding it to my watch list this season (as if I wasn’t already planning on watching it). Within the first two episodes Stephanie J. Block and Sean Grandillo make appearances, and I am excited to see what other Broadway alums we’ll get to see. Be sure to tune in on Tuesday, March 13 at 10 pm on NBC for the premiere of Rise.