April 21, 2023

Breaking down boundaries

Composer-educator Todd Fletcher ’87 uses musical theatre to transform lives
by Joseph P. Kahn '67

"Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” may be a classic movie trope, but for composer-educator Todd Fletcher ’87 it’s way more than that. Based In Germany, Fletcher and his organization PluralArts use musical theatre and the prerequisite skills—crafting story lines and song lyrics, learning set and costume design—to transform the lives of young people, many of whom are refugees from war-torn countries like Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan.

“You could do this with sports or art or theatre,” says Fletcher, a multi-instrumentalist who speaks several languages. “But creating a complete musical gives kids with different talents and interests a chance to be fully involved.”

A Connecticut native, Fletcher spent three years at Andover, where he wrote and staged a full-length musical, Cyrano, his senior year. Returning to PA as a teaching fellow in 1991, he met director Peter Sellars ’75, who later hired Fletcher to work on a Salzburg Festival opera.

Fast forward to 2002 in Berlin, where Fletcher created his first youth program in musical theatre. A few years later—and with major support from U.S. Ambassador to Germany William Timken ’56 and his wife, Sue—Fletcher began to focus his program on third-generation immigrants and then refugees from places like Aleppo and Kabul, who often arrive in Germany without parents or language skills.

Fletcher has seen how the creative process can act as a powerful vehicle for breaking down boundaries and broadening horizons. Particularly memorable have been his collaborations with Israeli and Palestinian youth in developing the Middle East Theatre Project.

“I talk about ‘Middle East fatigue,’ but we can’t give up,” Fletcher says. “I keep in touch with many of these kids, and they tell me how much their lives and perspectives have been changed by working with what they call ‘the other.’”

Categories: Alumni, Magazine, Magazine Online

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