The Educational Theatre Foundation (ETF) has formally launched and expanded its Pathway program, created to address a gap in availability of arts education for students of color following a National Endowment for the Arts study that showed they receive less than half the access of white students.
The initiative sends $10,000 grants to schools in communities of color to fund theatrical productions, with selected schools then hiring at least two industry professionals of color to work with students on the production as mentors. The program was piloted during the 2021-2022 school year at Tri-Cities High School in Atlanta, Georgia, and Cincinnati Aiken New Tech Program at Aiken High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Schools participating in the program in the current school year are the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati, Ohio, producing The Wiz; Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, producing To Be Young, Gifted and Black; and Maynard Jackson Highschool in Atlanta, Georgia, producing Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella.
The March 3 opening night of Marnard's Cinderella will serve as the official Pathway launch. The event is a nod to the program's inspiration, producer Craig Zadan, who co-executive produced the BIPOC-led 1997 TV adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Pathway was initially developed through funds raised at a tribute event following Zadan's death in 2018.
“Craig’s entire professional life was focused on expanding access to musical theatre to people across geography, income and age group, and especially race,” says ETF Trustee and Zadan’s spouse, Elwood Hopkins, in a statement. “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.”
Tony winner Kenny Leon will be on hand for the March 3 event as one of Maynard's mentors, leading a conversation following the opening night performance. “Our arts are the soul and the conscience of the people," shares Leon. "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. 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.”
Disney Live Entertainment will produce a "purple carpet" ceremony for the student cast, school community, and other invited guests, celebrating the evening's connection to the 25th anniversary of Disney's TV adaptation of Cinderella. Also on hand will be representatives from Concord Theatricals, which donated performance rights for all three 2022-2023 Pathway productions.
“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,” says DLE Vice President and ETF National Board of Trustees Chair Matt Conover. “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.”
Pathway is funded via the Ohio Arts Council, Eleanora C.U. Alms Trust, Fifth Third Bank, and private donors in honor of Zadan. Applications for the 2023-2024 school year are now being accepted at Foundation.SchoolTheatre.org.