Two Grand Rapids theater enthusiasts want to ensure that children of color are exposed to all the career opportunities that allow a production to come alive on stage.
Darius Colquitt and Emily Cipriano recently founded a nonprofit theatrical organization called #BAMTalent. BAM stands for Black Arts Matter.
“Instead of teaching about acting and different techniques and processes when it comes to performance, we’ll teach students what it means to be on the back end of theatrical professionalism,” Colquitt, CEO and producing artistic director for #BAMTalent, said. “They will be learning about lighting, sound design, set design, costuming, directing, stage management, all the other jobs that it takes in order for theater to run.”
Colquitt said their approach in theater education is to focus on providing those opportunities to people of color because there are not a lot of minorities working within the industry in West Michigan. He has held a number of positions in theater ranging from writer and director to stage manager and producer. Some of his credits include “Olive & The Bitter Herbs,” “The Meeting” and “The Wiz: Urban Cut,” among others.
Colquitt said there is a high unemployment rate among professional performers in theater.
“If you are a unionized actor or performer, there is a 97% unemployment rate,” he said. “As a non-union actor, if you are not affiliated, it is typically even more difficult to find work. There will not always be an acting job, but someone will need a lighting designer, a sound designer, a stage manager, someone to run crew and someone to create the costumes. All of these things will be important. Not only are they important to theater arts, but in teaching kids these skills, it will be a life skill that they can take somewhere else, beyond West Michigan. We are trying to expand their possibilities as opposed to limiting them or focusing them in one direction where they may or may not be successful.”
Colquitt said they are looking to start the program in early 2022. They will launch an Indiegogo campaign, which is a crowdfunding website, in the fall to raise $20,000. He said the funds will go toward staging their first production. Students will take part in producing the show as they shadow and work with various professionals.
Cipriano is the development director for #BAMTalent. She worked with Colquitt during their time together at Ebony Road Players in Grand Rapids. She said the students wanted to be more involved with the arts in a more impactful way.
“There is a common misconception that people think the arts kids want to do is ‘Annie’ or things that they see on TV, but kids can handle so much more,” she said. “All of the kids that Darius and I taught at Ebony Road Players were so passionate about the arts. There was one young lady who said she wanted to be the president of Ebony Road Players to keep the company alive forever. Kids need the arts, and we need the kids.”
She and Colquitt are passionate about teaching students of color about all aspects of a production. However, Cipriano said she knows that representation in plays and musicals also needs to change.
“We have so many people in our world and our arts do not reflect that right now,” she said. “We are telling the same stories. We are telling white stories. We’ve branched out into different classes at least. We have stories about poor white people and affluent white people, but what we are missing is everyone else.
“I want to implore people to do the arts that they want to see in the city and for people who are sitting in places of privilege to reach out to their counterparts who are minorities and support them the way that they need to.”