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Broadway Black Gives Back: Help Students From Brownsville See Shuffle Along

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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I’m the queen of talking about theatre and accessibility, but it’s time I put my (and other people’s) money where my mouth is.

This past school year I’ve had the honor of teaching over 200 amazing students in Brownsville, performing arts (Acting, Singing, Dancing) and as I sat at home, I wondered what I could do to make my class feel more real, more tangible. Sure they’ve had their winter concert, Black History Month show, and soon their Spring musicals but what else can I do? For many of my students this class was out of there comfort zone and over the course of the year I’ve noticed students really breaking out of their shells and discovering a new creative part of themselves.

jazmine2

Then I had this idea. I saw Shuffle Along Or the Making of the Musical Sensation and All That Followed while it was in previews and I was captivated from start to finish. There was a particular moment about William Grant Still that made it all click for me. I had just taught my students about William Grant Still a few weeks prior and here he was being presented in this amazing show. It came to me, I have to take some of my students to see this show, I must. So I thought long and hard about who would go and how I can make this possible. I came up with a list of 12 amazing, talented students that are I personally feel would benefit from seeing this show. Not only would they enjoy the dancing, singing, acting, lighting design, set design, orechestrations, but I picked students that would care about the history and the story being told. Students that would understand that it’s because of people from the past in the original Shuffle Along and the people in the present currently on stage performing at The Music Box that allow them, the people of the future, to be able to continue where they left off.

Check out one of my students KILLING “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway Musical RENT!

  This was powerful to me and I want my students to be able to see something that will hopefully inspire them to continue to be creative, to continue to strive for excellence in the arts, continue to grow and know there is a place for them in the theatre. I remember my High School Drama teacher taking me to see Broadway shows that forever changed the trajectory of my life and my career. It’s important for these students to see a show that tells a story that would otherwise be forgotten. It’s important that the story lives on and what better way to ensure that than with the next generation. My students. So I created a GoFundMe with the hope that people understand what I’m trying to do and feel inspired by it. Whether it be $5 or $50 this is a show that I fully expect to change these little performers lives. More info on the GoFundMe campaign can be found here.

UPDATE: 4/25/16

Through the generosity of some amazing donors, we have met our goal, in only FIVE days. I honestly didn’t expect to meet it so soon, however because of this I’ve gotten word there are people who are still willing and wanting to give.

So we’re going to open the trip to add (4) more students (yay!) Any additional funding we receive will be used to take more students to see the show.

Once again from the bottom of my heart THANK YOU all who donated and shared with family and friends, this wouldn’t have been possible without any of your help.

Here’s a quick thank you in the form of some of the 6th grade students performing “Steppin To The Bad Side” from Dreamgirls!

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Broadway Black Kids

Okieriete Onaodowan to Host 3rd Annual Shubert Foundation High School Theatre Festival

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Before picking up the accordion for his upcoming run in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan, from the original cast of Hamilton, will host the third annual Shubert Foundation High School Theatre Festival for New York City Public Schools.

On Monday, March 13th at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th Street) at 7 p.m, more than 100 students from five New York City high schools across the city make their Broadway debuts performing from their selected winter musicals or plays.

Additional guest artist presenters include Shoba Narayan, Nicholas Belton, and Paul Pinto of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, with cast members from Dear Evan Hansen.

A panel of professional theatre artists and theatre educators selected a total of five productions from a pool of 25 schools. Students from the chosen schools will present excerpted scenes and musical numbers from:

The Music Man: Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (Queens)
Almost, Maine: Brooklyn High School of the Arts (Brooklyn)
Company: Susan E. Wagner High School (Staten Island)
Angels In America: Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts (Manhattan)
Into The Woods: Edward R. Murrow High School (Brooklyn)

School principals and teachers, along with student family members, will attend to support their young performers representing four of the five boroughs, along with Philip J. Smith, Chairman of The Shubert Organization and Robert E. Wankel, President of The Shubert Organization.

New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña states:

“Theatre instruction teaches students the importance of rehearsing while building self-confidence and strengthening public speaking skills. These are critical skills that prepare students for college, careers and beyond. That’s why I’m so pleased that we continue to expand access to theatre programs and arts education across the City. In particular, we are committed to leveraging the incredible connections we have to New York City’s rich cultural resources and developing meaningful arts partnerships with organisations like Shubert.”

According to the press release:

“The High School Theatre Festival showcases the ongoing and excellent theatre work currently taking place in NYC public high schools, as well as highlighting the positive effects of theatre study on skills for the stage and in life: collaboration, artistry, discipline, focus, literacy, student voice, self-awareness, presence, active listening and empathy.”

Peter Avery, the Festival’s producer and the Director of Theater for the NYC Department of Education, further expressed the importance of the festival, and the impact it might have:

“How inspiring for our student performers to have such unique support for their Broadway debut of their show excerpts, from a professional tech crew and pit musicians to the broader embrace of the theatre community. Given today’s discourse, it is all the more crucial to celebrate the next generation of diverse, talented artists in our NYC public schools. These young men and women, representing a myriad of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, expand the definition of casting and collaborate to produce meaningful theatre for others.”

Sponsored by The Shubert Foundation in partnership with the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), the festival focuses on the impact a full theatre program might have on students and school communities, and further enables them to see theatre and the arts as a potential career path. Since 2005, The Shubert Foundation has provided more than $4.3 million to the New York City Department of Education for Theatre/Arts programs.

For more information, visit Shubert Foundation.

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Broadway Black Kids

Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit Visits The Color Purple

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Even though we’re out on summer vacation, the proud teacher in me never takes a break. Case in point, last night The Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit paid The Color Purple a visit and didn’t go out quietly. After curtain call the group of extremely talented youngsters SANG for the cast and BABY THOSE HARMONIES!

Thank God for social media, cast member Danielle Brooks reordered the lovely thank you message and tweeted:

 

Cynthia Erivo and Heather Headley also offered their gratitude via social media last night as well;

What the Mosaic Youth Theatre is doing is such fulfilling and necessary work, them bringing all those kids out to Broadway makes me want to melt. Danielle Brooks summed it up perfectly in her Instagram post:

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Across The Pond

BB Kids: Zaris-Angel Hator Makes West End Debut In Matilda

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Remember in 2013 when Broadway Black posed the question, Could Matilda ever be black on Broadway???

The final consensus amongst our followers was unanimous, she absolutely could be. And when that day came, we would lose our minds. Well, the day has arrived and we’ve done just that.

Matilda The Musical is now in its fifth year in London with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Earlier this year it was announced that Zaris-Angel Hator, Clare Read and Emily-May Stephenson will alternate the role alongside the most recent Matilda Evie Hone. On March 31st Zaris-Angel made history and had her first performance as Matlida in her West End debut. This makes the 12-year-old the first black Matilda of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Amazingly enough, Zaris-Angel taught herself to dance through YouTube and television after being inspired by Michaela DePrince and her book, Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina. #BlackGirlMagic

From the looks of Twitter and Facebook, Zaris-Angel absolutely killed her performance and even inspired many who loved that there was a little black girl who looked like their daughters on the stage. Further proof that  representation matters. This performance shows to many other black girls, they too could be Matilda, if they choose. The West End has the right idea, so how about it Broadway?

You go Zaris, over across the pond at Broadway Black we are rooting for you. Keep on shining!

 

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A Must See

First Lady Michelle Obama Celebrates Black Women & Dance

Andrew Shade

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First Lady Michelle Obama is all about celebrating black women & today is no different as she invites several black women leaders in dance to The White House.

This year, the theme of Black History Month at the White House is “Honoring the Past While Celebrating the Present; 7 Years of Living African American History.” As part of this celebration, First Lady Michelle Obama will highlight the contributions African American women have made to dance by hosting a day-long dance workshop for local students.

The First Lady will welcome 51 local Washington, D.C. students to the White House. These students will work with iconic leaders in dance, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Judith Jamison, Debbie Allen, the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Virginia Johnson, and Hip-Hop choreographer Fatima Robinson. Each of these women have played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of African American women and girls in dance.

12:30pm ET – In the afternoon, the First Lady will join Judith Jamison, Debbie Allen, Virginia Johnson, and Fatima Robinson for a panel discussion. The panelists will take questions from the students in the audience on a variety of topics including self-confidence, health, hard work, and overcoming adversity.

4:15pm ET – Later In the evening, the First Lady will deliver remarks and introduce a student presentation. As a culmination of the workshops, these young dancers will tell the story of African American history and culture through dance.

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Broadway Black Kids

11 Year Old Twins Receive Scholarships to the American Ballet Theatre

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Eleven-year-old Canadian twins Nia and Imani Lindsay are making a name for themselves in the ballet world. They were awarded scholarships to the American Ballet Theatre’s annual “Young Dancers Summer Workshop” in the summer of 2014 (they were 10 years old at the time). According to ABT’s  website, the workshop “provides an opportunity for serious young dancers, ages 9-11 and 12 year-olds at the beginning pointe level, to actively flourish in a professional, yet nurturing environment. The outstanding faculty members of ABT will provide unparalleled instruction, while remaining sensitive to the developmental needs of younger dancers.” Not only do they continue to develop their skills and talent with some of the best, they are making their students well-rounded, educated ballerinas by offering sessions in nutrition, ballet terminology, dance history, classroom and rehearsal etiquette, and injury prevention.

During an interview with Urban Bush Babies, the young ladies showed off how insightful they are at their young age. They discussed being awarded a scholarship, what it means to work hard, and one of their idols Misty Copeland. saying “I went to meet her,” said Nia. “She was really nice. She’s humble, a good dancer, and not cocky.” “And she’s a good influence,” Imani chimed in. “She’s not like Miley Cyrus at all.”

In a time when Black youth are rising in the arts and their voices are more prevalent in the fight for justice, Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love Of All” is quite true: the children are the future. These two young ladies are proof of that, continuing to break the mold and exist in spaces that traditionally aren’t “for us.” It’s a good reminder to see when the youth do something positive and groundbreaking. It’s our responsibility to lift them up and to encourage them to never give up on their dreams. This one is for you Nia and Imani. Broadway Black always has your back.

Check the talented duo in a video below! For more, you can subscribe to their YouTube channel here!

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A Must See

Akeelah and the Bee is E-X-C-E-L-L-E-N-T at Arena Stage

April Reign

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The Arena Stage presents a world-premiere co-production of Akeelah and the Bee with the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis. The play, based on the beloved film of the same name, “tells the story of an independent 11-year-old girl whose razor-sharp mind just might take her all the way from the Chicago projects to the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.” The movie starred Keke Palmer (Cinderella) as Akeelah, Angela Bassett (The Mountaintop, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone) as her mother, and Laurence Fishburne (Thurgood, The Lion in Winter) as Akeelah’s spelling coach and mentor, Dr. Larabee. Having been nominated for several awards, the movie “Akeelah and the Bee” won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture and Outstanding Writing in a Feature Film/Television Movie – Comedy or Drama.

The staging has been updated since the 2006 movie: The setting has changed from South Central LA to Chicago, the young characters are doing the Whip and the Nae Nae, and there’s a poster of Beyoncé on Akeelah’s wall. But the theme and the talent remain steadfast. As Molly Smith, Arena Stage’s Artistic Director noted, “Washington, D.C. is filled with ‘Akeelahs.’ Children throughout our city are told that they cannot succeed, but it takes the entire community to rally together to change those preconceptions.”

This production is adapted for the Stage by Cheryl L. West (Pullman Porter Blues), based on the Original Screenplay by Doug Atchison, and directed by Charles Randolph-Wright (Motown: The Musical, Ruined). The entire cast is making their Washington, DC Arena Stage debut, as they are based in Minnesota.

Listen to Director Charles Randolph-Wright explain that “at such a depressing time in our country where it seems no one is listening to each other, Akeelah steps up the microphone and through spelling forces us to realize that we have far more in common than we have that is dissimilar”:


Akeelah and the Bee runs through December 27, 2015 at Washington DC’s Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater and is fun for the whole family.

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