Two Cincinnati area schools and one Atlanta school will receive $10,000 to participate in the second-year pilot phase of the Educational Theatre Foundation’s (ETF) Pathway program designed to foster racial equity through school theatre.
Inspired by the late producer Craig Zadan, Pathway enables students in communities of color to work with industry professionals of color while performing works that encourage dialogue around racial equity.
Maynard Jackson High School in Atlanta, Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), and Winton Woods High School in metro Cincinnati were selected to participate for the 2022-23 school year. Each school’s theatre director explained how their planned shows would promote the Pathway program’s racial equity goals and impact their students and communities.
Maynard Jackson will produce Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella in March. Director Adrienne Edwards’ choice was inspired by the 1997 ABC-televised live musical starring Brandy in the title role and Whitney Houston as the fairy godmother, which Zadan was instrumental in making happen. The production’s 25th anniversary was celebrated with a cast reunion special Aug. 23.
Seeing a Black woman cast as Cinderella affected Edwards – and many other girls of color. “[It highlighted] the importance of understanding that beauty is more than the idealized Eurocentric example, and I would like to address this with my students,” said Edwards. “My students would like to use the Broadway version because the characterization of Cinderella is more empowering; she challenges the prince on his ideals and his kingdom. They like the focus on beauty plus brains.”
SCPA will perform The Wiz in November. “This show was chosen for its celebration of diversity and its long history and association with SCPA,” said director Jay Goodlett. “This will be the fifth time our school has staged the show. Also,  is SCPA’s 50th anniversary, and it is our intent to include many of our alumni.”
Winton Woods director Michelle Kozlowski chose To be Young, Gifted and Black because of the diverse roles and throughlines to the school curriculum. “All students have to read A Raisin in the Sun their sophomore year. This show gives them a chance to look at the author’s story more in depth,” she said.
“There [can] be a great discourse around what the students perceive to be different for them in the 21st century — both for women and African-Americans — and also what unfortunately remains the same,” she said. Her students will stage the play in November.
Concord Theatricals will donate the rights for the selected schools to perform all three shows. “We are thrilled that with the combined generosity of the estates of Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Lorraine Hansberry, William F. Brown, Charlie Smalls, along with Concord Theatricals, these three schools will be able to perform their shows free of charge,” said Abbie Van Nostrand, Concord’s senior vice president of client relations and community engagement. “Creating opportunities for young diverse theatre makers to thrive is one of our most central values, and it’s an honor to sponsor this year’s Pathway program with ETF. We are delighted to see Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella; To Be Young, Gifted and Black; and The Wiz resonate with the next generation.”
Pathway grants require that each recipient school hire at least two professionals of color to work with students during the production, acting as mentors and modeling possible career pathways. This proved to be the most successful component of the first pilot phase last school year.
“Students got to work closely with a professional African percussionist, a professional lighting designer, and a leading Broadway actor,” said program director Lori Valentine. “The students cited these mentor relationships as especially meaningful, opening their eyes to the many areas of theatre while establishing future connections in the industry.”
For 2022-23, the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park will partner with ETF to support their local Pathway schools, giving students access to professionals and programs in working theatres.
One of the 2021-22 Pathway recipients, Tri-Cities High School, earned multiple accolades in the Georgia High School Musical Theatre Awards (the Schuler Awards) for its production of Fela! and was invited to give a featured performance at EdTA’s International Thespian Festival. ETF’s full funding of this production made it possible for Tri-Cities to attend the event and participate in international competitions for the first time ever.
The 2023 International Thespian Festival will again showcase one of these Pathway productions to elevate the schools’ work on an international stage.
Funding for the Pathway grants comes from the Eleanora C.U. Alms Trust, Fifth Third Bank, Trustee; Ohio Arts Council; and numerous private donors in honor of Zadan. ETF is working to establish a permanent fund of $1.25 million that will fund five Pathway grants per year in perpetuity.
You can support this initiative by donating online.