In anticipation of the release of its new high school theater drama Rise, NBC held a call for submissions for R.I.S.E. grants — Recognizing and Inspiring Student Expression. Out of thousands of applicants, Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids was selected as one of the 50 schools nationwide to receive a grant. The grants are intended to help revitalize arts education and assist high school theater departments in covering production costs and creating new programs for students.
The list of schools was announced on March 5. Jefferson is the only Iowa high school to make the cut.
Rise is based on the 2013 book Drama High by Michael Sokolove, which chronicles the true story of teacher Lou Volpe. Over a 40 year career, Volpe (whose retirement closes the book) created a top-tier theater program at Harry S Truman High School in unassuming, blue-collar Levittown, Pennsylvania. The program became so renowned that Musical Theatre International, a premier theater licensing agency, began using it as a test venue for producers deciding whether to license shows for high school performances.
NBC announced the grant program in January of this year. In partnership with the Educational Theatre Foundation, the network pledged $500,000 to high school theater programs — $10,000 each to 50 schools across the country. The short, four-week application period ran until Feb. 6. Applicants were required to submit a video demonstrating what makes their school’s drama department “special” along with an essay setting out why they deserved the funds and how they would use them.
In a statement at the time that the program was announced, Chairman of NBC Entertainment Robert Greenblatt said, “I’m proud that Rise will be more than just an uplifting show about a high school drama program, but, through this initiative, will also have an impact on the lives of real students in 50 high schools.”
Rise premiers on March 13 on NBC. It stars How I Met Your Mother‘s Josh Radnor as Lou Mazzuchelli, the teacher based on Volpe, and stage and screen veteran Rosie Perez as Tracey Wolfe, another teacher at the school. Actor and singer Auliʻi Cravalho, who voiced the title character in Disney’s Moana, plays Lillette Suarez, the lead student role.
Producers on the show include Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller and Jason Katmis, of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood.