Photo by Simon Seo

Two Sides of RealAD: Onstage and Offstage

RealAD is unique and effective because we compose most the songs from scratch. It comes from our heart, and thus, it moves the audience’s heart.

Preston Martin, the director of the RealAD show, told us these words which were originally Elizabeth Swados’: “If you can save one person ... not wanting to live or have no hope, even if you can save that one person, that is enough. You’ve accomplished your job as a member of RealAD.” These words eased my anxiety before I stepped onto the stage. Chosen to be part of the cast and rehearsing well in advance of the show, I felt that I had to change the thoughts and actions of every single freshman. In a perfect world, yes, that was the goal. But in the real world, we were simply there to plant a seed in freshmen minds — there is always someone to help you.
The preparations for the RealAD show happen in New York. For me, New York was a strange, enchanting place. The streets are full of art galleries and hidden gems are everywhere. In one block you will see a thrift store, a Chinese restaurant, an art gallery and a kitchenware shop. However, being in the abundance of everything made me feel quite lonely at times, and I felt like I was living in a city of strangers. Having felt like a stranger myself in New York, which I had fortunately never experienced in NYU Abu Dhabi, I finally knew how to deliver the message in our final song, We Are Not Strangers.
RealAD is unique and effective because we compose most of the songs and skits from scratch. Therefore, there is authenticity in what we say. It comes from our heart, and thus it moves the audience’s heart. In fact, as I had no composing skills at all, this was the toughest part of my RealAD experience. During the share circles, I always felt diffident when sharing my ideas. I love acting, dancing and singing, but composing was not my thing. In the end, however, I contributed to parts of the Together song, which to me meant a great deal.
Offstage, we can see that the RealAD also has an effect on upperclassmen, despite the fact that the show is primarily intended for freshmen.
“I feel like it gets better and better as you grow into your college years. It was very emotional,” said junior Marie-Claude Hykpo. “When you’re a freshman you’re like, what are you talking about? Apple pie? What’s happening?”
The show perhaps resonates more with the upperclassmen because they have lived through the scenarios that are narrated in the show.
“Especially the mental health issues: I don’t think these are things we can ever get used to. They will still be things that we will deal with till the end of our lives,” said junior Sangeetha Mahadevan.
Most importantly, for the upperclassmen, the show reminds them of NYU Abu Dhabi’s school spirit and the community that is present on this campus.
“This reminded me [of] why I wanted to come here,” Hypko said. “We almost cried at the end. It was even more of a bonding experience for the upperclassmen. You just love the community beyond your little circle of friends.”
The show not only links the classes together, but its songs also comprise a factor that is present from the start of the NYUAD journey to the very end. Candidates first hear it during Candidate Weekend, then at the RealAD shows and finally, it is sung for the seniors during graduation.
Some people may be skeptical about how much a musical show about health and wellness can change one’s view of their upcoming college life. Theater can, however, make a great impact on the audience, whether they realize it or not. Aristotle described theater as an imitation of the real world which brings satisfaction to the audience’s mind. Theater can be reflection: it even reflects the negative elements of the world in a truthful manner. Theater is a medium that can be understood by anyone. The passion of the actors, the music that echoes in the hall and the sharing of the spectator’s space with the audience creates a place one would remember for a lifetime. That is why RealAD is different from ordinary lectures regarding mental health and safety.
Atoka Jo is a contributing writer. Thirangie Jayatilake is a staff writer. Email them at
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