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New York students got to attend Madison Square Garden’s first Broadway performance (for free)

18,000 high school students were able to attend a Broadway production of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ for free last week

Jeff Daniels performs as Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Jeff Daniels performs as Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Julieta Cervantes

Madison Square Garden may be one of the most famous arenas in the world, but until Feb. 26, it had never hosted a Broadway play, Entertainment Weekly reports.

The theater was converted to host the Broadway performance of Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mocking Bird, which normally is put on in the Shubert Theatre, Broadway Buzz reports. Instead of the regular audience size of just under 1,500 people, this free performance hosted 18,000 middle and high school students — the largest audience in Broadway history.

Filmmaker Spike Lee and and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio emceed the event, reports The Associated Press. De Blasio took time to remind the eager students they were living in an important moment in the stage’s storied history, while Lee encouraged the students to pursue their artistic dreams, saying “don’t let anybody tell you you can’t be artists.”

The students were particularly engaged with the show, booing its villains and cheering as they were taken down, groaning when things went wrong for their favorites and cheering loudly for the actors as they entered the stage, reports The New York Times.

The Washington Post described the event as a “gift” from the city to its people, and highlighted the fact that the free and school-sponsored performance gave the play an opportunity to reach a diverse audience that would likely not see it otherwise.

The idea of a free show for students originated with the show’s producer, Scott Rudin, but received plenty of support in order to become a reality, including a new custom stage for the actors, free use of Madison Square Garden and free popcorn for each of the students in the audience, according to The Washington Post.