Students in Atlanta and Cincinnati are the first recipients of a Pathway grant designed to harness the power of school theatre to build racial equity. Tri-Cities High School in the Atlanta metro area, and the Cincinnati Aiken New Tech Program, part of Aiken High School, will pilot Pathway, an Educational Theatre Foundation initiative that supports opportunities for students in communities of color to work with industry professionals of color while performing works that encourage dialogue around racial equity.
“Participation in school theatre builds empathy and life skills such as communication and collaboration,” said Allison Dolan, chief content officer of the foundation’s parent organization, the Educational Theatre Association. “Pathway aims to break down barriers for youth in low-income communities of color to experience those benefits, because the evidence is clear: Students who experience theatre in school are more likely to succeed in life.”
The pilot schools will each produce musicals in April 2022: Tri-Cities will perform FELA! The Musical, and Aiken will put on Disney’s Aladdin JR., with rights donated by Music Theatre International. The productions will be funded by $10,000 Pathway grants from the foundation.
Jade Lambert-Smith, the Tri-Cities theatre teacher who will direct FELA! says, “The Pathway grant is an amazing opportunity and a beacon of hope for our student performers and designers who will benefit directly from working alongside professional artists in the field.”
Funding for the pilot grants comes from the Eleanora C.U. Alms Trust, Fifth Third Bank, Trustee; Ohio Arts Council; ArtsWave; and Disney Live Entertainment. The Educational Theatre Foundation is working to establish a permanent fund of $1.25 million that will fund five Pathway grants per year in perpetuity.
The program realizes the vision of the late producer Craig Zadan, who made musical theatre more accessible by breaking down racial barriers throughout his career. A tribute event following Zadan’s death sparked the development of Pathway by raising funds and inspiring a celebrity advisory board including Kristin Chenoweth, Kenny Leon, Audra McDonald, Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters, Danny and Lilly Pino, John Stamos, John Travolta, Nia Vardalos, and Renee Zellweger.