Theater saved my life and it continues, like a sweet fairy godmother, to drop platinum-wrapped diamonds smack in the middle of my lap. To wit, I live in walking distance of the Harlem School of the Arts, and last weekend, along with Victor Maog, artistic director of 2g, we attended the fall open house of the 37,000-square-foot facility designed for multi-discipline art instruction, performance and exhibition. I skipped twice, squealed often and no one noticed because I was surrounded by creative youths filled with magic.
HSA is expertly run by CEO and President Yvette Campbell, whose tremendous experience in the arts and education is impressive, if not a tad intimating. You could have knocked me down with a feather as I explored the rich, exciting and diverse curriculum offered to kids (starting at age 2), tweens, teens and adults.
The music department is run by violist and music educator Judith Insell. There, choices include theory and African and Latin percussion and education covers woodwinds, brass and strings. Additionally, there are an equally wide variety of vocal classes and private instruction.
Dance and musical theater is headed by Aubrey Lynch II, a former dancer with Alvin Alley American Dance Theater and associate producer of that Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Disney’s “The Lion King.” He’s also a private acting coach and has several former students working in shows on Broadway, including the new musical “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Theater arts students are under the tutelage of Willie Teacher, who has performed the great works of William Shakespeare and acted in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Topdog/Underdog,” written by Suzan Lori-Parks, to name just a few of his credits. Teacher utilizes a traditional arts conservatory approach to accurately and lovingly prepare students (ages 2 to 18) for the rigorous demands of professional application. He is also a private coach with a stellar reputation. There are also classes in playwriting, Shakespeare for teens, stage combat, acting for the camera and directing.
Visual arts is under the eye of sculptor and fine artist Ana Ruiz-Castillo, whose art career began in Spain. Other classes include puppet and mask making, fashion illustration, manga (Japanese-style cartoons), filmmaking, photography, painting, mural work and art history.
The coveted HSA prep program is highly competitive and highly selective. Designed for serious students of the arts (12-17), it’s an advanced study of all of the art forms with an eye toward academic and professional careers. In the 25 years of the prep program, young artists have a near 100 percent acceptance rate to prestigious colleagues, universities and conservatories, including Harvard University, the Juilliard School, Spellman College, Brown University and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, among many others.
And that, New York City, was why I was squealing and skipping through Harlem last weekend—I was filled with the creative energy of a new generation of young artists who are learning and dreaming in Harlem.