The Fall of SING!
SING! used to be one of the most anticipated events in the Stuyvesant school year. However, we’ve recently seen a decline in SING! during recent years. Why is this, and what can we about it?
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The lights go off. Cheers erupt from the audience as the cast walks on stage. Mutters die down as the audience’s eyes are drawn to the front of the auditorium. The annual SING! performances are about to begin.
This massive show at Stuyvesant has been happening for 50 years strong; it’s embedded in Stuyvesant culture and is, or rather, was, one of the most anticipated events of the school year. While hundreds of students used to sign up with thousands of dollars spent to complete such extravagant theater performances, the pandemic seems to have squashed the once vivacious SING! spirit.
Turnout for SING! 2022 was a disappointment compared to previous years. Around half the number of audience members showed up this year, averaging 387 attendees in 2022 per night, while 2020 averaged 661 per night. The actual production process also saw a heavy decline in membership this year as crews struggled to find applicants. Many crews were essentially no-cut because of the lack of experience that the student body had in SING!-related skills. Senior SING! Coordinator Alec Shafran said, “Well I think that for this year especially, it was important to shift to a more inclusive way of getting involved in SING!. After a year where some extracurriculars, like StuySquad, STC, and SING!, were hard to be a part of, a lot of people wanted to open up the crews to more people [who] want to try new things.” Even then, a lot of crews had lackluster numbers compared to previous years. For example, soph-frosh art crew had 60 applicants in 2020 and accepted 35, but this year, they had to accept all of the 23 applicants. Certain grades were even missing crews because nobody applied to direct them. For performing crews, both the number of applicants and the number of people in each crew shrank, with dancing crews ranging from 20 to 30 people in previous years to only five to 15 now. Junior SING! wasn’t able to include the tap, belly, bolly, or swing crews as a result. Of course, this didn’t stop each grade from putting on amazing performances, but the decline in SING! culture and spirit will create a huge problem for future generations.
Theater productions at Stuyvesant rely heavily on passing down generational knowledge, and when the pandemic hit, this link between generations suffered a cut. There was a general consensus that virtual SING! in 2021 was far from the experience in-person SING! provides. Junior SING! coordinator Lianne Ohayon said in an e-mail interview, “I think that having a virtual SING! felt more isolating across the grades when it came down to performing and the camaraderie that develops from being at rehearsal in person working together.” The community, energy, and physical interactions that make SING! members feel connected to each other just didn’t exist in the same way. Crews like tech, art, props, and costumes usually create physical setpieces and use specific tools for the show. Without hands-on experience and guidance from upperclassmen, the skills required for these crews were easily lost with underclassmen. Meanwhile, dance crews also pass down choreographing and directing skills down to underclassmen. Without these skills, many dance directors were left to choreograph completely on their own, posing a completely new challenge in addition to the already stressful schedule of SING!.
As a result, many technical crews this year were more lenient with helping different grades. To upperclassmen, passing on the traditions of SING! and making sure the Soph-Frosh production had a chance was much more important than the competition aspect of SING!. Within these technical crews, the term “All SING!” was coined to describe the collaborative effort this year.
SING! was promoted far less in the ‘20-‘21 and ‘21-‘22 school year. Without the same spirit and energy that existed during SING! pre-pandemic, people didn’t see the appeal of participating, viewing SING! as a high-commitment activity with low pay-off rather than a unique bonding experience that ties Stuyvesant students together. This lack of enthusiasm, knowledge, and promotion meant that SING! took a hit this year, with record-low numbers of participants and viewers.
However, the evident decline in SING! participation need not be permanent. With proper promotion through announcements, social media, and passed-down stories, SING! can rebound back to the huge event it was in the past. A huge contributor to the previous success of SING! was the factor of hearsay: listening to recounts of the electrifying feeling of running through the hallways and chanting incited a feeling of awe within the student body. Crews like media & memory, which provides vital documentation of the SING! experience, must have more time devoted to them in order to capture and spread the excitement that surrounds SING!. Additionally, a large factor that played into the popularity of SING! in the past was the use of social media and storytelling. Many people post their SING! crews and memories after the show, piquing other students’ interest in the show and prompting them to participate in the future. Announcements through the loudspeaker could also invite people who may not have social media to also join SING! and find a community there. Those who participate in SING! usually continue to do so in the future, and by creating interest in SING! for one year, it also leads to increased participation in following years.
As we ease back into in-person school, increased friendships, in-person events, and school activities overall could be utilized to increase participation in SING!. Senior step director Elliott Scheuer said in an e-mail interview, “Rebuilding the dance teaching pipeline is one way to get people to join dance crews for SING!. SOS is coming up and that’s a really great way to get involved in learning a new form of dance in a really low-key setting. [Possibly] spreading the word that SING! isn’t just for theater kids or artsy people. In my opinion, literally anybody can find a place within SING! to thrive.” SING! is something that truly involves all of Stuy. It’s where the dancers, artists, actors, singers, builders, costume-makers, prop-creators, screenwriters, and creative directors all come together for three nights to put on an amazing show. In these three nights, it’s the unity and collective joy that emphasize how SING! brings the Stuy community together. This crucial part of Stuy culture has a place for anyone who wants to get involved; that’s the beauty of SING!. No matter who you are, you’ll find a home in the warmth of community.
Revitalizing SING! doesn’t just revive a simple theater production; it revives the Stuyvesant community and Stuyvesant culture itself. Not only does it benefit the community, it also allows individuals to create memorable experiences centering Stuy. “SING! is a big part of Stuy culture, and it’s definitely something that I am extremely thankful to have been a part of,” Shafran said.