Saturday, March 10, 2007

Black History Alive by the Citywide Theater Group

Akron's latest youth theatre group staged Black History Alive today at Buchtel High School. The group, under the direction of Diana Autry, is composed of students from PreK to 9th grade, from schools around the city. It is primarily comprised of black students and the focus is on presenting black history and culture.

The presentation uses dance and music as well as dramatic tableaux in the form of Museum displays of famous Black Americans. The characters step out of the frozen picture one by one and share the details of their lives. The actors are costumed appropriately for character and time period. The students are given the opportunity to try on the shoes of someone who lived before them. This direct experience has been shown to be a far more effective teaching strategy than any lecture or reading assignment could ever hope to be. Look at Dale's Cone of Experience and you'll see acting it out is in the 90% retention level.

With the untimely demise of Akron's Ingenue Theatre, another citywide venue for young people, it is good to see Citywide Theater Group stepping up and delivering a needed service for our community. The show has grown since its first appearance last year. Additional characters found their way into the museum. I'm afraid I could not refrain from cheering when a very handsome young fellow stepped forth to introduce himself by saying "I am a graduate of Columbia University and was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review..."

Another very positive aspect of this production is its depiction of the history of black contributions to popular culture, particularly music. From African dance rhythms to the Harlem Renaissance and the Apollo Theatre and on through blues & rock, and the dazzle of Motown. They end with a museum tableau of Hip Hop, reminding us that this form is now a venerable 30 years old!

I talked with the director who is considering setting up non-profit status so she can look for funding to continue on with this project. I wish her the best and urge Akronites to give her and especially the students in her group, the support they deserve.

Try as I might, I can't keep the theatre from seeping into my blog entries. Although I am not interested in writing theatre reviews, I'm realizing that there is plenty of local theatre that will never earn a column inch or three in the local rag. The ABJ simply does not have the resources or inclination to cover educational theatre. If they reviewed one school play, they'd have to review all of them. They will sometimes go for a feature article on an educational theatre project, but nothing on a regular basis. In the spirit of "good things ought to be given attention," I reserve the right to blog about theatrical productions that interest me.

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