In 1982, the Broadway musical “Cats” debuted in New York and became one of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history.
Simultaneously, Michael Presser, a 1969 Temple education alumnus, was founding his own long-running Broadway staple: Inside Broadway. The non-profit organization has allowed thousands of New York public school students to attend iconic musicals, like “Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Dream Girls,” “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” and more.
The organization now services more than 30,000 New York public school students yearly and offers a range of programs, like theater camps, after and in-school programs and senior citizen arts workshops.
“I think we should, and we certainly need to, educate young people from the very beginning of school, starting in lower grades to the arts, both in terms of participating in some kind of an art activity or going to see a play or something or a concert,” Presser said. “We need to do more of that and we need to take it seriously.”
Now, Inside Broadway is shifting its operations, and Presser is partially stepping down from his leadership role after 41 years. Katie McAllister, previously a teaching artist and program director at Inside Broadway, will be taking on the role of executive director as Presser continues as president and CEO.
“[Presser’s] vision of starting Inside Broadway a little over 40 years ago is really amazing, and the fact that he’s also kept it going through hard times and through COVID it’s really a testament to his leadership,” McAllister said.
Presser has been managing all aspects of Inside Broadway since 1982, but as he takes on less work at Inside Broadway, his newly found free time will be devoted to lobbying politicians to promote the organization and advocating for students’ accessibility to arts education.
“[Presser] has a work ethic that he does not stop, he gets done what has to get done,” said John Diaz, the vice president of Inside Broadway’s board of directors. “He’s very influential with people that are politicians and he’s very influential with people that aren’t.”
Inside Broadway has been well-respected by New York politicians. All of the city’s mayors from the past four decades have attended the program’s events and supported their development.
This past June, NYC Mayor, Eric Adams presented Inside Broadway with a Mayoral Proclamation, a public announcement issued to honor a date, week or month that is worthy of recognition, in honor of their 40th Anniversary.
“I just recently had the opportunity to meet our current mayor, Eric Adams, so there have been six of them, and all of them are hanging on my wall and pictures that are signed by them,” Presser said.
The work began in 1982 when Presser was introduced to Bernard Jacobs, then-president of The Shubert Organization, a theatrical production company and owner of 17 theaters. Presser had pitched several business ideas to Jacobs when he worked for him, but his ideas fell through, so Jacobs assigned him to another project.
The Shubert Organization was bringing “Cats” to New York from London, so Jacobs asked Presser to distribute 50 Wednesday matinee tickets weekly to local public school students.
Former Mayor Ed Koch became aware of the project and donated additional “Cats” tickets and hosted a press conference at City Hall, forming an early relationship between Inside Broadway and the city’s local politics. This brought the non-profit media attention and exposure. Presser then expanded the program into Inside Broadway.
One of Inside Broadway’s most notable programs is Creating the Magic, an educational careers-in-theater program designed to inspire students’ love for theater. Participants get to explore behind-the-scenes elements of Broadway musicals, including live performances by actors and musicians and demonstrations of technical and special effects by department heads and stage managers.
Creating the Magic aims to recognize the often unseen, diverse and hardworking individuals in theater. It’s also free for New York public school students in various neighborhoods, offering them the opportunity to travel into the heart of Manhattan for an enriching theater experience.
“[Students] see people that are women, they see people that are men, they see all kinds of different nationalities and they see that it’s something that they could do,” Diaz said. “And that’s all because of [Presser].”
Although the shape of Presser’s role has changed, his lasting impact on Inside Broadway hasn’t wavered. He hopes that by exposing more students to the arts, they’ll want to adopt a career in theater or production.
“Our job is to work with Broadway as an art form and work with the board of education as an educational agency to help children in New York to understand theater, to participate in theater,” Presser said. “And also to understand a little bit about the jobs and the careers that are involved in the theater industry.”