Musical Theatre is often not the first choice for a family’s weekend excursion. Other means of entertainment, such as video games and violent movies, often supersede any display of interactive artistic expression. The Foundation for the Advancement of Music and Education (FAME) is on a mission to change the landscape of what children and their families are exposed to. FAME espouses that live artistic expression, such as theatre, vocal and visual arts, and dance are rich and add cultural relevance to one’s life experiences. “Educators and experts agree that exposure and participation in the arts yields critical thinkers and high academic achievers. The arts also enrich the community,” said A. Toni Lewis, president and founder of FAME.
With that charge, FAME sponsored over 200 children to experience “Mirandy and Brother Wind,” the sensational 55-minute musical production running at the Atlas Theatre (1333 H Street NE) through March 13. Set in the early part of the 20th century, “Mirandy and Brother Wind” is the story of a young girl, Mirandy, who was determined to take home the grand prize in the annual community cakewalk dance competition. Along the way, Mirandy learned some lessons in humility and respect from her family, friends, neighbors and from “Brother Wind” himself.
On behalf of FAME, local students and regional groups, including Prince George’s County Reading Council, United Communities Against Poverty (Shepherd’s Cove Shelter), AKA’s Popcorn Club and the Seaton Memorial Youth Group as well as a bus full of theatre students from Philadelphia’s New Freedom Theatre all saw the production. Diane Leslie, New Freedom Theatre’s Director of Acting and Workshops for the Performing Arts Training Program, said her students thoroughly enjoyed the “lively and educational story.”
The musical, which has an African-American cast and production team, celebrates a storied tradition in African-American culture—the cakewalk. Adapted from the Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Award winning book of the same name, “Mirandy and Brother Wind” is produced by the Adventure Theatre and the African Continuum Theatre (the only African-American professional theatre company in Washington, DC). Adventure Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director, Michael Bobbitt, expressed his gratitude. “If it were not for groups like FAME, who go above and beyond to make sure that all kids get access to the arts, I would not be in the position that I’m in. In these current economic times, we need more model organizations like FAME. I was deeply moved when I looked out into the audience and saw hundred’s of smiling faces, enjoying live theatre.”
The smiles and wide-eyes visible on the students illustrate just how much they enjoyed the production. After each show, the cast spoke with the students, who were eager to ask questions about how the cast prepared for such a fast-pasted production from another time period. The star of the play Felicia Curry, who played Mirandy, expressed to the students how important it is to be dedicated to learning and honing their skills as a performer. “You must research your role and practice” in order to outshine the thousands who also can sing, act and dance, Curry said to the young performers. Leslie concurred, “They had an opportunity to ask seasoned artists about their experiences and get a chance to hear what their teacher/director has been saying to them in class/rehearsal come from someone else in the business. Students need to see all of the possibilities of their art form and take it seriously.”
Celebrating its 7th Year Anniversary this summer as a non-profit organization seeking opportunities for young people to not only participate in the arts but to see it as well, FAME founder is thrilled that this was such a success. “Equity in the arts is vital to building strong communities,” said Lewis. FAME provided each child with an autographed copy of the book as well as a cupcake, which represented their grand prize for coming to see a live musical production.