Tony Danza truly is “the boss.” Despite his busy schedule as a star of stage and screen as well as a New York Times best-selling author, Danza makes giving back a priority. For nearly a decade, he has spearheaded the annual ExtravaDanza talent show to help raise money for Northeast High School in Philadelphia.
So what connects a Hollywood actor to a Philly high school in the first place? He taught there in 2009.
“I wanted to be a teacher all my life and took a year off to do it. I’m very interested in public education. What made this country great is public education, and we all used to get it. You hear all of these horrible stories about what’s going on in the public schools and I wanted to see for myself,” he says. “I spent 181 days teaching 9th grade English and I got a real different look at what’s going on. There are thousands of miracles going on every day — most of the time without the necessary resources. Our schools are not being funded to the extent that they should be.”
During Danza’s time teaching at Northeast High School, he noticed that the teachers didn’t mingle much, and decided to put on a teacher talent show.
“It was amazing. Just the teachers did their acts,” he says. “The kids saw them in a different light.”
After his time teaching was over, Danza wanted to stay connected with the school and help raise money for it and suggested a student versus teacher talent show, which would become ExtravaDanza.
“Everybody went crazy for it,” Danza says. “We pitch a team of student acts against teacher acts. 2000 people came the first year and we raise enough money to keep some of the programs [at Northeast High School] alive.”
Danza works closely with the school music teacher, Jay Fluellen, and drama teacher, Theresa Bramwell, to produce a Hollywood-level show with the kids.
“It’s a privilege to be in one of these shows and you have to live up to that,” he says. “We have auditions and people really put time into it and go all out. I’m a task master — I want it to be great.”
There are also quite a few prizes to be won.
Aside from the team trophy, that will go home to either the student team or the teacher team, acts can win the first place prize ($1000 gift card), second place prize ($500 gift card) or third place prize ($350 gift card). What’s more, there’s another $500 prize for best film.
For aspiring performers out there, Danza has the following bit of advice.
“You have to believe in your heart of hearts that even though you can’t do what everyone else can do, nobody can do what you can do.”
He also believes that education in the performing arts helps build skills for life.
“So much of what this is, is what life is. They’re in a show that is bigger than themselves. They have to learn to let their guard down, speak clearly, stand up straight and look people in the eye. Performance is developed when you perform.” he says.
The ExtravaDanza with Tony Danza comes to Northeast High School on Thursday, April 26.
For more information, visit: nehs.philasd.org.