By PrincessSafiya Byers
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Milwaukee Academy of Science students laughed and danced – and learned.
The fun – on stage recently as part of an interactive production produced by Black Arts MKE – taught the students about a glorious era in Black art history.
The production, “Harlem Renaissance,” by local playwright Malaina Moore, is set inside the Savoy Ballroom, a legendary dance hall in Harlem, New York. The production featured local actors who brought to life four of the era’s icons: singer Ella Fitzgerald; artist Jacob Lawrence; author, filmmaker and scholar Zora Neale Hurston; and poet, playwright and activist Langston Hughes.
The production, which took place Feb. 8 through Feb. 25 in the Marcus Center for Performing Arts, was in honor of Black History Month.
Black Arts MKE’s mission is to increase the availability and quality of African American arts and culture. Its staff spent much of February putting on the production for free for Milwaukee’s youths. They allowed students to sing and dance with the cast as well as share what they knew about figures featured in the production.
“It captured their (the students) attention,” said Tiffaney Carter, a paraprofessional at Milwaukee Academy of Science. “The colors were there, and the students were able to learn about music and various ways to do art.”
Faith Cox, a second grader, said she enjoyed tap dancing and being able to sing with the cast.
“I liked it when they let us ask them questions,” she said. “I learned how to sing because the girl’s voice was beautiful, and she taught us.”
Her classmate, Journey Bradford, loved going on stage to learn from the cast.
“They taught me how to dance, and I learned about how some Black people died after they were famous,” she said.
The goal of the production was to teach youths the history of art in Black communities, according to a statement from Black Arts MKE.
“As a Black artist myself, writing and directing this piece has been an exciting and emotional journey. It’s important to me that these students understand the beauty and artistry that came out of the Harlem Renaissance,” Moore said in the statement.
Moore, who also directed the play, graduated from Marquette University in 2020 and has been featured in work at the Next Act Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and the Milwaukee Black Theater Festival.
“I want them to feel like they’re seeing themselves on stage and be empowered to create new works that represent their lives,” she said. “There is power in the students not only learning about the history but understanding that the performers and the crew working behind the scenes are all Black and based in Milwaukee.”
For more information
Black Arts MKE hosts a series of programming and events for youths throughout the year. You can learn more here.
Schools and organizations interested in registering for future youth programming are encouraged to contact Ashley Jordan, director of arts and cultural programming at Black Arts MKE. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.