The Educational Theatre Foundation has selected three schools to participate in the second-year pilot phase of its Pathway program, designed to support racial equity through school theatre. Atlanta, Georgia's Maynard Jackson High School plus School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) and Winton Woods High School, both in Cincinnati, Ohio, will receive $10,000 grants as part of their work with the program.
Inspired by late producer Craig Zadan, the initiative pairs students in communities of color with industry professionals while performing works that encourage dialogue around racial equity. The selected schools are required to hire at least two professionals of color to work with students during the production, working both as mentors and as models of possible career pathways.
"Students got to work closely with a professional African percussionist, a professional lighting designer, and a leading Broadway actor," reported 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."
Maynard Jackson will perform Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella in March, with director Adrienne Edwards citing the 1997 ABC TV movie version of the work starring Brandy and Whitney Houston (notably co-produced by Zadan) as inspiration, specifically the power of seeing a Black woman cast in the title role.
"[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," shared 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 will perform To Be Young, Gifted, and Black because, according to director Michelle Kozlowski, the piece ties nicely into the school's 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," Kozlowski 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."
All three shows will have licensing rights donated by Concord Theatricals, which represents all of the selected titles.
"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," says Concord Senior Vice President of Client Relations and Community Engagement Abbie Van Nostrand. "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."
This year's selected schools will be supported by local professional theatres, Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
Funding for the Pathway grants comes from the Eleanora C.U. Alms Trust, Fifth Third Bank, Trustee; Ohio Arts Council; and private donors in honor of Zadan. The foundation is working to establish a permanent fund that will fund five Pathway grants per year in perpetuity. To help support that goal, visit SchoolTheatre.org.