After Southern Nevada youths from Broadway in the HOOD saw musical “Once on This Island” at The Smith Center, they stood outside and had a long talk.
“This was their first time seeing themselves represented in a Broadway show, with the majority of the cast being of color,” says Torrey Russell, founder of Broadway in the HOOD, a nonprofit youth theater company. “It’s life changing.”
These and other youths from across the community enjoyed a rare view of the show.
They participated in the national tour’s special on-stage seating, created to offer an immersive experience similar to that of the Broadway revival.
This was possible thanks to a generous, $10,000 donation from the John C. Kish Foundation, one of the 57 founders that provided support for the opening of The Smith Center, a nonprofit organization.
The foundation’s gift subsidized the on-stage seats for a wide variety of community organizations that support young people, including Broadway in the HOOD, West Las Vegas Arts Center, Communities in Schools and more.
“At his core, John Kish and his partner Frank Plevo were huge supporters of inclusion, equality and mutual respect, which this production exemplifies,” says Matthew Frazier, Smith Center board member and John C. Kish Foundation trustee.
Russell couldn’t have picked a better show for young people to see, he says, both because of its diverse cast and its message of love and tolerance.
“This musical goes to show that at the core of everything, we are all human,” Russell says. “100 percent of (the youths) who attended were not only inspired, but they were validated that they, too, can continue to transform the world through the arts.”
The on-stage seating allowed Las Vegas’ young, aspiring performers to observe professional actors up close, Russell notes.
“My kids were able to experience how the actors have to pace themselves, knowing that ‘Once on This Island’ is truly an opera,’” he says of the sung-through musical.
But the on-stage experience also offered participants a special glimpse behind the scenes, including for 19 Girl Scouts.
“This offered a firsthand experience that being engaged in the performing arts is not specific to those who look to become actors,” says Nicole Neal, director of corporate initiatives with Girl Scouts of Nevada.
The connection the scouts made with the show will lead to them champion the arts as adults, she predicts.
“This allowed them an experience that rivals those of their counterparts in top-tier markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago,” Neal says.
Watching the show’s stage crew thrilled Gabriella, a scout with Troop 297, who works as the lighting technician for her high school theater program.
“I loved watching how the lighting changed, and being a part of it all,” she says.
Students with American Preparatory Academy also gained much from the on-stage experience.
The school brought several students interested in acting, directing, stage production “and all other things theater,” says Kaylie Gunn, the school’s music specialist.
“Their eyes lit up the moment they walked on that stage,” Gunn says. “(This opportunity) helped stoke the fire that has driven them on to the arts.”
One student described the on-stage seating as “an incredible experience” the youths will never forget.
“Being able to sit on the stage so close to the cast made us feel as if we were a part of the show,” the student says. “The story of true, unfailing love inspired me and touched my heart.”
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