In late September, when my series of shows for FringeArts was over, my attention turned to another exciting project on the horizon.
This past April I was blessed to perform at PIFA (Philadelphia International Festival of The Arts) which is hosted by the Kimmel Center. As a result, I was invited by the Kimmel Center’s Education Department to serve as a resident teaching artist.
Carol Frazier (manager of education), Manisha Modi (education administrator), and I met several times over the summer, and decided we wanted to address budget cuts and how they affect arts education for students in the Philadelphia School District. Twenty-three schools have been closed and innumerable teachers and staff laid off, and the arts appear to be a luxury that is vulnerable and easily cut from budgets.
So we decided to devise a presentation to funders, championing the Kimmel Center as a place to keep arts education alive and well in Philadelphia. We’re calling the program “Showstoppers!”
Staff includes the incomparable Reginald Pindell (Professor at U of Arts, and Broadway veteran) for vocal instruction, Jaquetta Colson (Living Arts Dance and international dance ambassador) for choreography, and me for acting, comedy and script development. After rigorous auditioning of dozens of students from all kinds of high schools over the last 2 Saturdays in September, the chosen performers met for the first time this past Tuesday at the Kimmel Center.
What a thrill! 45 students who can sing, act and dance who together are performing a show about how they are artists and are going to change our city. Jaquetta Colson inspired students to lift others several feet off the ground to “defy gravity,” Reggie Pendell energized the group to resonate with 45 booming voices, and I encouraged the students to experience what it is to be a committed actor and laugh along the way. I leaned over to Carol Frazier, an accomplished pianist and vocalist, and whispered “There is such a great feeling of spirit in here.” She nodded and smiled with pride. Every one of the students was doing their best. They want to dazzle, make a difference, and learn.
Sometimes people ask me what will allow them to truly be happy. They look to things, accomplishments, and family. I did not go looking for this experience, but it is a natural high I cannot quite describe. To make a difference in the face of negativity, despair and poverty consciousness — to affirm the creativity of young adults while they still believe their creativity matters, and to collaborate with such high caliber artists as these teaching artists and staff, has me feel that we are indeed changing our world.
One review of my “Dirty Joke” show said I provide “comedy with a conscience.” This week I feel gratified to indeed marry social justice and comedy in this way, helping to activate these students and make a lasting difference in Philadelphia.