Theatre department partners with county, arts center to train African-American actresses

Tarell Alvin McCraney
Tarell Alvin McCraney

Theatre arts department is partnering with Miami-Dade County, Arts for Learning and the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center  to create an intensive three-year theatre training program for African-American high school girls.

The accelerated theatre arts program will begin in summer 2016. Under professor Tarell Alvin McCraney’s leadership, students will perform a Greek play their sophomore year, write their own play as a junior and then write and perform their own play as a senior. In addition to the hands-on experience the students will gain from McCraney, they will be partnered with undergraduates from the University of Miami’s theatre arts department who will serve as mentors to the young women.

McCraney is a professor of theatre and civic engagement in the University of Miami’s theatre department and will spearhead the three-year summer program. The Yale School of Drama graduate and award-winning playwright decided to create a program that would afford young people the opportunity to develop the skills necessary in becoming an artist.

“Oftentimes, we said we want a very diverse community with lots of voices that come together at the table and meet. Well, there are underserved parts of our community, and if there’s a way we can open up the channel of dialogue by sharing resources, that’s always helpful,” McCraney said.

He believes that the same chances given to young athletes to hone their craft should be provided for young artists.

“We do it for sports; we know that young kids from a young age, they were playing Pop Warner or they were training in their sport, but for some reason we just think with theatre or television or filmmaking or storytelling, some leap is supposed to happen between high school and college – you’ve gotten your 10,000 hours and you can come in and be professional.”

McCraney accredits his success in the theatre world to the resources that were available to him at an early age.

In 2013, McCraney received the MacArthur “Genius Grant” for exploring the diversity of the African-American experience and adapting those experiences to classic Greek plays such as “Hamlet” and “Antony and Cleopatra” while continuing to bring theatre to students in underserved communities in Miami.

A Miami native, McCraney sees a lack of representation on the screen and on the stage that reflects the demographics of communities in South Florida.

“Florida has one of the largest populations of African Americans in the country, next to Georgia and South Carolina. For that number to be what it is, you wouldn’t be able to know that by the art that comes out of Florida, and there’s something a little strange about that,” McCraney said.

McCraney worked as an international writer for the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, where theater companies that are receiving government subsidies are mandated to produce a season of plays that resembled the citizens living in the city of the theatre.

“I just thought it was an extraordinary idea,” McCraney said. “If we did that in America, can you imagine a season [of plays] that actually looks like Miami? Why are we not doing that?”

The summer program will help bridge the gap between UM’s resources and the greater Miami community by allowing students of color an opportunity to use the arts as a medium for telling their own stories and cultivating their talents.

“At the end of the day, how great would it be that we bring in a crop of students that came through our program into the gates of the University of Miami and let them know there is a place to continue their training here in Miami, in their community, a place that they love?” McCraney said.