Alumni Establish Theatrical Company, Apocalyptic Artists Ensemble

Robbie Armstrong
February 18, 2021

Last year, Columbia Alumni established Apocalyptic Artists Ensemble (AAE), a theatrical company dedicated to empowering young people to be creative and think outside the box. This group of artists and educators do this by teaching theatre workshops to middle and high school students in New York City. The Apocalyptic Artists Ensemble is founded by acting alumni Kea Trevett ’16, Alice Renier ’16, Peter Romano ’15, and Brynne McManimie ’16.

This past fall, Apocalyptic Artists Ensemble provided free theatre education to students and school districts through online classes. “When the pandemic hit, arts education programs were cut in many schools,” Trevett shared with us. “Our company got on the ground in virtual classrooms. We fundraised and offered a free theatre education curriculum with Shakespeare and classical theatre workshops.” At the end of the semester, students watched a live streamed Shakespeare production, produced by AAE. 

Using Shakespeare to teach theatrical storytelling and principals is at the center of AAE’s theatre workshops. “The things the kids like about Shakespeare are the same things that we fall in love with,” Renier shared. “Once you help take the language off the pedestal, the students understand themselves better. When you explain iambic pentameter to school students, it is the most beautiful day in class. Shakespeare wrote to the beat of a heart beat. Students always respond to that. They realize that once they know this concept, they know what words are important.” 

Not only has AAE made theatre more accessible to its students this past year—in the midst of a global pandemic—but its instructors have seen first-hand a community building too. 

“I had one final workshop where one girl, who was very shy, was about to perform a monologue over Zoom for her classmates,” Trevett shared. “She started and after the first sentence into her monologue performance, she said ‘Sorry I can’t do this.’ Then she turned off her screen. I told her that we’d come back to her at the end and give her another opportunity to perform. Then the chat box exploded with positivity for this student. All of her classmates were cheering her on. At the end she did perform the monologue and people applauded. Having people rally for you is so important and getting to witness kids going out on a limb is really moving.”

Renier also shared one such moment:

“There was a student who wasn’t attending workshops at first. But for his final performance he did this amazing scene from Macbeth. He had filmed it with lighting and magic tricks. His acting was on point and you could tell he put so much work into it. He was so proud and pleased that people saw and recognized his work. We found out later that he was essentially living alone because his mom was in the hospital and because of the pandemic he couldn’t have visitors. Since he had come to the workshops, he started signing on for class. Finding moments of joy and connection are what keep students coming. This is a simple program, but for each student it can be incredibly rewarding.”

Through fundraising, Apocalyptic Artists Ensemble was able to provide free theatre workshops to over 500 middle and high school students in the fall 2020 semester. “The money we raise is invested directly into upkeep for the company and for paying artists and teachers,” Renier said. AAE is already full for the spring semester, but with additional fundraising, they plan to hire more teachers and lead more classes. The spring production, that students will watch at the end of the workshop series, is going to be a multimedia production that is filmed and prerecorded.