UAlbany Performing Arts Center Matinees Give High School Students Taste of Campus Life

An auditorium full of high school students watches a man dressed in black kneeling on stage in front of a red curtain at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center.
High school students from across New York visited the UAlbany Performing Arts Center in October for a matinee performance of "Fahrenheit 451." The visit included lunch in the Campus Center, admissions tours and other campus activities. (Photo provided)

By Bethany Bump

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 9, 2023) — During the last week of October, approximately 1,600 students from two dozen high schools around New York visited UAlbany for a matinee performance of Fahrenheit 451 at the Performing Arts Center.

The Literature to Life stage adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic 1953 tale of book burning in a dystopian America was particularly relevant to classroom discussions students had been having about book bans, censorship and shrinking attention spans.

In the Campus Center after the show, 16-year-old Samuel Valberg, a junior at Amsterdam High School, reflected on how characters in the play were uncomfortable with the mental and emotional strain posed not just by books but by critical thought in general — and compared it to how many people numb out today by scrolling for easily digestible, bite-size content on their phones.

“It’s like a muscle,” he said. “You go to the gym, you do a million curls, you’re putting strain on it, it’s going to grow, right? You challenge your mind, you train your mind, and it’s going to grow stronger and stronger. That benefits society. This play does such an amazing job of capturing modern society, even though the story itself was written 70 years ago.”

The field trip to see Fahrenheit 451 is part of ongoing efforts by the Performing Arts Center (PAC) to bring high school students to campus for a matinee show, followed by lunch in the Campus Center, admissions tours and other campus activities. Over the course of this academic year, PAC estimates it will bring approximately 3,500 high school students to campus for matinee performances and a taste of college life.

A crowd of high school students stands on the UAlbany campus near the fountain on a sunny day. Fall foliage can be seen in the background.
Students from Amsterdam High School visit UAlbany's fountain after seeing "Fahrenheit 451" at the Performing Arts Center. (Photo provided)

The students largely hail from the Greater Capital Region but some come from as far away as the Bronx. The matinees are also available to home school students.

The Fahrenheit 451 show was such a popular offering that PAC started with one matinee, quickly after announcing it had to add two more and eventually added a fourth matinee in order to accommodate demand for the program, said Kim Engel, associate director of PAC.

“More than 20 years ago, the PAC management decided to develop this series for several reasons," she said. "Our main goal is to give the high school students an impactful artistic experience but, also providing these prospective students a taste of campus life certainly goes a long way towards the University’s recruitment efforts. Our programs not only relate to the curriculum the students are studying in class but explore topics that are important to the University, like social justice, climate change, racial discrimination, gun control, capital punishment, etc., and do so quite effectively through the mediums of music, theatre, dance and film.”

Alessandra Vicinanzo, a 17-year-old senior from Amsterdam High, attended the Fahrenheit 451 matinee and wrote an essay about one of the characters for her AP Literature class. Like Valberg, she was also struck by how relevant it felt to modern life.

“Just like in the book, people are afraid to be uncomfortable,” she said after the show in the Campus Center. “It may be hard to get off your phone and to talk with people — maybe it'll be a boring conversation — but just being able to connect with people on some kind of level is better than to just have instant gratification all day long.”

As part of their visit, the planned itinerary for the Amsterdam students included talks from the New York State Writers Institute and Honors College as well as an admissions tour. At the last minute, a visit to the University Art Museum was added. 

Two girls and two boys stand with their backs to the camera as they take in a piece of artwork at the University Art Museum. One wears a backpack that says "Amsterdam Bowling."
Students from Amsterdam High School visited the University Art Museum during their trip to UAlbany. (Photo provided)

Valberg and Vicinanzo said they appreciated getting to learn more about campus life, especially as they approach college application and acceptance deadlines.

“Just knowing what you like and what you don’t like is helpful to narrowing it down,” Vicinanzo said.

Valberg, who plays drums, said he was interested in UAlbany’s Department of Music and Theatre, as well as the marching band.

“Campus life is a big thing,” he said. “I don’t want to go to a college and stay in a dorm all day, which is why it’s so helpful to be on a campus and be able to picture yourself there.”

More information about matinees and upcoming performances for high school groups is available here.

For 2023-24, admission is free for high school groups to all performances but reservations are required. To make a reservation for your school group or for additional details, contact Kim Engel at 518-442-5738 or [email protected].