When someone with the star power of Michael James Scott (perhaps best known as Genie in Aladdin on Broadway) spends his one day off work to hop a flight from New York City to Cincinnati, you know something meaningful is happening.
In this case, the meaningful development is the Pathway pilot program, an ETF initiative that supports opportunities for students in communities of color to work with industry professionals of color while performing works that encourage dialogue around racial equity. Aiken and Tri-Cities High school in metro Atlanta are the first schools to participate and received $10,000 grants to support their productions.
Scott visited with teachers, administration, and staff, and toured the school grounds. And of course, his visit included time with the cast of Aladdin JR., who performed a part of one of the musical’s songs. Scott coached them to a higher level of energy and authenticity.
His visit coincided with Theatre in Our Schools Month (celebrated every March), and put the spotlight on the power of theatre education. Scott told the students he’s been pursuing his dream of working in theatre since he was younger than they are. And that even though his parents and other adults around him helped him gain access to training, workshops, and theatre programs, he didn’t have quite the same access to training as they were enjoying. He encouraged them to make the most of this time and opportunity!
Experiencing theatre to the fullest extent
A core component of the Pathway program is providing students with mentoring opportunities that model potential career pathways. For the Aiken theatre students, another of those mentors is Piper Davis, who serves as cultural director. She provides guidance to the students in the show who need/want adult supervision with any number of issues.
Davis explained that she’s keenly aware of BIPOC students’ needs and works to provide them a safe space in which to grow and find guidance. “I didn’t get to see people who looked like me when I was aspiring to be an actor,” she said. “I tried going a different route in my work life, but the theatre is where my passion lies.”
Today Davis works with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park where she’s currently involved in the production of School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play.
Aiken’s theatre and music director, Terri McCoy, credits the Pathway grant for reviving Aiken’s theatre program following two years of no activities due to COVID. “The kids are really excited, and so am I because theatre is so important for these kids. It gives them something to work toward. It gives them a sense of accomplishment,” she said in a local TV interview. “The [Pathway] grant is giving these kids an opportunity to experience theatre to the fullest extent.”
ETF is currently accepting applications for the Pathway pilot program in the 2022-23 school year. Schools in Cincinnati, Atlanta, and San Diego are encouraged to apply by April 15.
Support for the Pathway program in Cincinnati is provided by ArtsWave; the Eleanora C.U. Alms Trust, Fifth Third Bank, Trustee; and the Ohio Arts Council.
The program is also supported by funds donated in the memory of the late producer Craig Zadan, who made musical theatre more accessible by breaking down racial barriers throughout his career, and whose vision inspired the program.
If you’d like to support ETF’s efforts build racial equity through school theatre, please donate to the Pathway program. Your help could make a meaningful experience like this Michael James Scott visit possible for students.