The Educational Theatre Foundation (ETF) has officially launched Pathway, a program designed to create opportunities for studnets in communities of color to work with theatre industry professionals while producing works that encourage dialogue around racial equity. The program completed its pilot phase during the 2022-23 school year.
Pathway provides $10,000 toward the funding of the schools’ theatrical productions. Each recipient school will hire at least two professionals of color to work with students during the production, acting as mentors and modeling possible career pathways.
“The Educational Theatre Foundation is dedicated to providing access to a quality theatre education to all students,” said Dr. Jennifer Katona, ETF president and Educational Theatre Association executive director.
ETF marked the official launch of the program during Maynard Jackson High School’s March 3 opening night of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella in Atlanta. The production is a full-circle moment, as Pathway pays tribute to the late producer Craig Zadan, who co-executive produced the 1997 TV adaptation of Cinderella that aired on “The Wonderful World of Disney” and starred Whitney Houston and Brandy.
Zadan was an early and steadfast pioneer of inclusive casting and a fierce advocate for writers, directors, and producers of color. “Craig’s entire professional life was focused on expanding access to musical theater to people across geography, income and age group, and especially race,” said Zadan’s spouse, Elwood Hopkins, an ETF trustee. “Too often low-income communities lack resources for such programs. Pathway is not only funding these schools’ productions, it is bringing attention to plays and musicals that reflect diversity, and bringing successful professionals of all races from Hollywood and Broadway to act as mentors.”
As part of the program’s initiative to introduce students to working professionals in the BIPOC community, Tony® Award-winning director Kenny Leon led a conversation with the cast and attended the opening night performance. “Our arts are the soul and the conscience of the people. Our beauty is in our diversity. Giving our young people of all backgrounds equal opportunity and access to creativity allows them to become the storytellers of tomorrow,” said Leon. “I am honored to mentor these students through the Pathway program. Together, we will create a more inclusive, diversified, and just America. The challenge is in the moment. The time is always now.”
Also in attendance as sponsors were representatives from both Disney Live Entertainment, who sponsors Pathway, and Concord Theatricals, an ETF sponsor who represents the Rodgers & Hammerstein catalog and brand. Disney produced a “purple carpet” ceremony for the student cast, school community, and other invited guests to celebrate Craig Zadan’s vision and its correlation with the 25th anniversary of Disney’s television adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Concord Theatricals donated the performance rights for all three Pathway productions in the 2022-23 school year.
“I believe theatre in schools provides a unique opportunity for all students to learn to collaborate and grow in so many areas, including empathy, perseverance, and leadership,” said Matt Conover, Vice President of Disney Live Entertainment at Disneyland Resort, and chair of the ETF national board of trustees. “Disney Live Entertainment is proud to support this important mission and celebrate the opening night of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella at Maynard Jackson High School.”
“On behalf of our authors and their estates, we are thrilled to be able to donate the rights for these schools to perform their selected shows,” said Abbie Van Nostrand, Concord’s senior vice president of client relations and community engagement. “It’s an honor to be a sponsor of this year’s Pathway program and support these young theatre makers as they experience this collaborative and community-building platform.”
The launch of Pathway coincides with Theatre In Our Schools month, an advocacy and awareness initiative celebrated across the educational theatre community each March. Theatre students and teachers join with outspoken advocates from their communities to spread the word about the benefits of theatre as part of a well-rounded education. The Pathway program realizes these advocacy efforts for communities of color, who notoriously experience a lack of theatre programming and/or support in their schools. By furthering the conversation about racial equity through school theatre, Pathway helps to ensure that all students are given a seat at the table and proves that #TheatreInOurSchools matters.
Funding for the Pathway grants comes from the Ohio Arts Council; Eleanora C.U. Alms Trust, Fifth Third Bank, Trustee; and numerous private donors in honor of Zadan.