Five Young Performers Who Are Killing It Right Now

Five Young Performers Who Are Killing It Right Now

A little over a year ago I had the privilege of writing about five young artists this country should know! I received a lot of excellent feedback about that article and thought it would be a cool idea to turn this into a yearly thing. There is nothing more rewarding than working with kids in theatre. There are some fantastic communities in this country that is producing some amazing young talent. Here are another five young artists you should know about in this country!   

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Avoid Working with David Petro/Broadway Break Thru

Avoid Working with David Petro/Broadway Break Thru

Last December, I wrote a piece on the fact that Broadway Break Thru and its founder David Petro, had not paid its guest faculty for their work during their summer college programs.

Some of the guest faculty hadn’t been paid a dime despite some of them being owed upwards to $1,000.

After publishing the article, I had heard that Petro promised(in writing) that he would pay all monies owed by February 28th. I’ve been told by various faculty, that he hasn’t sent them a dime.

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Bowling Green Students Want to Change Theatre Namesake Over Role in Racist Film

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News coming out of Ohio tooday,

The Black Student Union at an Ohio university is pushing the school’s president to rename a theatre honoring an actress who starred in “The Birth of a Nation,” considered one of the most racist movies ever made.

The Toledo Blade reports Bowling Green State University’s Gish Film Theater was named after actresses Dorothy and Lillian Gish 40 years ago.

Lillian Gish starred in the 1915 black-and-white silent film, which served as a tribute to the Ku Klux Klan and helped revive the white supremacist group.

Black Student Union President Kyron Smith says the push to rename the little-used theatre comes after its relocation to the student union.

University President Rodney Rogers says a task force of students, faculty and other stakeholders will make a recommendation for an immediate change.

So I can completely understand why the Black Student Union might feel this way. Having a facility on their campus named after someone associated with a racist film can evoke some painful and negative feelings. For anyone who has ever seen The Birth of a Nation, it is an infuriating film.

However, what I feel might be getting lost in all the furor, is the possible truth behind Gish’s participation in the film and ignoring everything else she did in her lifetime.

First of all, what should be considered is if Gish had any choice of appearing in the film at all. From what we know of the stringiness of early Hollywood contracts, it’s more than likely that her being in the film was apart of the deal she had signed with D.W. Griffith when she was 19 and she was going to be in that movie whether she wanted to or not. It should also be noted that The Birth of a Nation was one of six films Gish made in 1915 and one of 23 between 1914-1916.

I would absolutely support the removal of D.W. Griffith’s name from any theatre. He was the son of a Confederate solider, opposed Reconstruction and saw the rise of the Klan as potential for a great moment in cinematic history.

Also, if you want to take context of the film into account, her character Elsie doesn’t actually do anything racist. If anything, she’s repeatedly portrayed as a victim. If her character had been dressing in blackface, gleefully participated in a lynching or any other type of racist behavior, it would be an entirely different issue.

At the same time, consider why the theatre was named for her in the first place. Unlike statues of Confederate heroes, her tribute has everything to do with her contributions to acting and film as a whole.

Keep in mind this is the same actress that for Way Down East (1920), floated perilously down a river while perched on an ice floe, trailing her hand in the frigid water in order to make the situation even more impactful which resulted in permanent nerve damage. On the shoot of The Wind in the Mojave Desert, she insisted on the utmost authenticity, including filming in the midst of sandstorms; at one point she suffered third-degree burns on her hands from a car door handle which had become white hot in the blazing desert heat.

It would also be different if Gish was known to be a racist herself and support racist causes. But she didn’t or at least there is no record of it.

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After she died, she bequeathed the the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize which awards $250,000 annually to an individual who has “made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” Recent recipients include Suzan-Lori Parks, Bill T. Jones and Spike Lee.

And remember, this was one credit on a career that totaled over 100. Yes, she appeared in a racist film at the age of 22, but in the years that followed she also played Mimi and La Boheme and Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter.

Should we be getting into to punishing or removing namesakes due to one shameful acting credit? If you feel that way, should the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center remove their namesake because she once appeared in yellowface in Dragon Seed? Should we demand that Julia Louis-Dreyfus give back her Mark Twain Prize because she appeared in Soul Man (where a character spends the entire movie in blackface) more than 30 years ago? Should we rename the Mark Twain Prize because of his usage of the n-word in Huckleberry Finn?

As a person of color and someone with common sense, I do believe there are actual issues with race in this country. I supported the tearing down of Confederate monuments. I believe that there is still massive marginalization of people of color on an everyday basis. I also know that this is the second time this year race has been heavily discussed on BGSU’s campus.

So I’m urging students at BGSU and their administrators to look at the entirity of Gish’s career and contributions. But if you feel that one likely contractually obligated credit in a racist film at the age of 22 is enough to strip her name off a theatre, I think that says more about you than it does Lillian Gish.

Student Strike Results in Cancellation of Theatrical Productions at Willamette University

Student Strike Results in Cancellation of Theatrical Productions at Willamette University

In 2015, we here at OnStage Blog ranked the B.A. in Theatre program at Willamette University as the best in the nation. We felt that the combination of academic rigor, bold production choices, outstanding faculty and ample scholarships made them stand out among the rest. Since then, the school has been in the Top 10 on our annual rankings and this past year came in at #3.

However, a recent student strike has led to the cancellation of the program’s two upcoming productions. And if what we’re hearing from the students is true, then it could lead to a swift downfall for one of the country’s best theatre programs.

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More Accusations Brought Forward Against Broadway Break Thru

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It looks like Broadway Break Thru isn’t out of the woods yet. Despite claims of having a spotless record, more accusations have been made against the company for not paying its bills. And it looks like legal action is going to be filed against them and their founder, David Petro.

Following the report that Broadway Break Thru has not been paying its guest faculty members for its 2018 summer event, Mr. Petro, released the following statement:

This past week, it’s been shared in the public space that Broadway Break Thru (BBT) has not made full payments to our 2018 College Break Thru (CBT) instructors. I take pride in maintaining the utmost integrity in our organization’s business practices. All of BBT’s instructors have been notified when all stipends will be paid in full plus interest. In the spirit of transparency, I feel responsible to share the details and context on how we got here, and how we are ensuring it does not happen again.

Approximately two weeks after the CBT 2018 intensive, I had an emergency back surgery. An oversight was made in that payments did not go out due to a physical signature being required. Concurrently, my director of operations left due to his mom’s sudden death. The bottom line is that BBT’s CEO and the Director of Operations were unavailable and consequentially, regular business practices were interrupted. A member from my team kept the instructors updated, and as soon as I was able, I reached out to each and every instructor personally. 

A focus of this week’s public messaging is our 2019 CBT programming and approach for marketing this initiative. Our 2019 website was launched during the 2018 CBT summer intensive to promote our upcoming year. We have addressed every concern that’s been raised to us directly. We take responsibility for this matter, but will not allow false narratives.

As a performing artist, educator, and business owner, it is incredibly hard to acknowledge this situation after more than 9 years of a spotless record. As many performers understand, our bodies are our livelihood. To date, I have had 23 medical procedures and 3 surgeries.  Unfortunately, after a period of painful and debilitating forced medical leave, I came back to a business that was withered and a team of professionals and friends hurt by their missing payment.

Yet, as a result of these setbacks, I am excited to report that BBT has been revived as an even more mature and robust organization. We recently partnered with Accelerated Growth, a firm that works with entrepreneurial organizations to manage through these very types of business scenarios growing small businesses often face. We have put new people, systems, structures and policies in place to ensure this never happens again. There is a business management team built around contracts, payment structure, and internal policies to provide peace of mind to our instructors.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out with love, support and gratitude. We are touched to have you in our lives and excited to continue helping students reach their full potential with BBT.

In the statement, Mr. Petro claims that before this issue with guest faculty in 2018, he’s had a spotless record going back the past nine years. However, according to one university, that claim isn’t as accurate as Mr. Petro might believe.

I received the following statement from Jay Berkow, the Director of Musical Theatre Performance at Western Michigan University.

“Broadway Breakthru (BBT) is a company that provides musical theatre experiences for children of all ages from elementary to college students.  In the past few years they have attempted to develop relationships with respected college music theatre programs to provide a one-week summer pre-college camp experience. 

In August 2016 Broadway Breakthru partnered with Western Michigan University to provide such an experience on campus.  Students paid a hefty sum and received training with the faculty from WMU theatre and dance, as well as guest artists and interns.  The agreement with BBT ensured that the fees paid by the students directly to BBT would cover the experience including the faculty fees, housing in the WMU dorms and a meal plan.  BBT has never paid for the contracted housing and meal plan provided by WMU and has left the university with a bill of over $6,000. When WMU attempted to contact BBT director David Petro on numerous occasions, he did not return calls or emails and was unavailable due to a vacation in Italy.  As of now, WMU has no recourse but to take legal action against BBT to attempt to recover the owed funds.

Parents should take note that Broadway Breakthru is not a reputable organization and there are many other options for music theatre training and college prep available to their talented children.”

Given the fact that these events took place in 2016, it conflicts with Mr. Petro’s comment of having a spotless record for the past nine years.

We’ve reached out to Mr. Petro for comment on this inconsistency, we will update this article with any new information.

This is an ongoing story, if you have any information, please email us at onstageblog@gmail.com

Performing Arts Education and Coaching Company Accused of Not Paying its Guest Faculty and Staff

Performing Arts Education and Coaching Company Accused of Not Paying its Guest Faculty and Staff

A performing arts education and audition coaching company is under fire today over claims that it has not paid its guest faculty members for summer workshops and masterclasses even though they had agreements over email regarding compensation.

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Casting Controversy with 'Little Shop' Leads to Anti-Whitewashing Policies at University

Casting Controversy with 'Little Shop' Leads to Anti-Whitewashing Policies at University

Last month, furor erupted within the theatre department at Bowling Green State University in OH over the casting of its production of “Little Shop of Horrors”. The controversy arose when the director of the production cast three white actresses in the roles of Crystal, Ronette and Chiffon, known as the “urchins”.

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The 5 Most Underrated MFA Acting Programs of 2018-19

The 5 Most Underrated MFA Acting Programs of 2018-19

Unlike other industries, getting a master’s degree isn’t necessarily a requirement for theatre professional to succeed. However, for those looking to teach or further their training, there are many strong MFA programs all over the country.

In the past we’ve done a list of who we felt were the best MFA programs out there. This year, we thought we would changing things up by highlighting programs we felt offer excellent educational opportunities that don’t get enough attention.

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The Top 25 B.A. Theatre Programs for 2018-19

The Top 25 B.A. Theatre Programs for 2018-19

One of the big realities of looking at college theatre programs is understanding that a BFA degree is not for everyone. These degrees require a lot of time and a different type of courseload that other majors. For many students, they might not feel that a BFA degree is for them and that's completely okay. 

Pursuing a BA in college is sometimes the best path. It allows students to take different electives, double major, study abroad, try different performance opportunities and also work on projects outside of school. 

While there might be pressure out there to only go after a BFA degree, remember that a BFA degree is not required to be cast or hired for a show. It comes down to your talent, audition or portfolio. And these BA programs are helping prepare their students better than most BFA programs. 

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The Top 10 Graduate Playwriting Programs for 2018-19

The Top 10 Graduate Playwriting Programs for 2018-19

In the past four years we've been doing these rankings, one area of theatre we've neglected to cover is writing. Shame on us for that. Because any theatrical professional knows that the writer is absolutely vital to the creative process. They set the tone for everything that follows. 

So it's about time we started recognizing the excellent playwrighting and screenwriting programs around the country. These schools are doing an incredible job of producing the next generation of writing icons by not only teaching them traditional writing techniques but also how to write for modern day audiences. 

Here are our picks for the 10 best Playwriting Programs for 2018-19. For this list, we're doing only graduate programs.

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The Top 25 BFA Acting/Performance Programs for 2018-19

The Top 25 BFA Acting/Performance Programs for 2018-19

When taking a look at this year's roster of top BFA programs for acting/performance, we considered a lot of different aspects. But one thing we were looking for more than previous years is how these programs are properly preparing their students to tackle the different acting platforms available today. Are they focusing on just theatre or also acting for the camera? What different types of performance opportunities will students have? These types of factors are more than ever for the acting student in the coming new decade. 

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The Top 25 BFA Theatre Design & Tech Programs for 2018-19

The Top 25 BFA Theatre Design & Tech Programs for 2018-19

While technology always evolving, the landscape for BFA Design & Tech graduates is changing on an annual basis. With those changes, it's important that these college programs evolve as well. 

Students need to be taught traditional techniques in design as well as learn new software and practices. It's equally important that students are trained not only for careers for the stage but for a multitude of different performance settings as well. 

The following programs are great examples of institutions striving to prepare their students for professional careers in the entertainment arts.

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The Top 25 College Dance Programs for 2018-19

The Top 25 College Dance Programs for 2018-19

Today, we kick off our annual rankings with programs in dance. Over the years we've seen careers in dance take off in a number of ways. Broadway is no longer the only destination. Programs are preparing dancers for a number of different types of performance settings and jobs. 

So here is our list of the best college dance programs for this year, both BFA and BA. Please note that non-degree awarding studio programs will not be included in these rankings. 

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Understanding OnStage Blog's College Rankings

Understanding OnStage Blog's College Rankings

For the past three years, OnStage Blog has released its annual rankings of the best colleges in the country for Dance, Design & Tech and Performing for BA, BFA and MFA degrees. Whenever we announce our rankings, some questions arise and they're always the same - How do you come up with your rankings?

Well this year, we've decided to tell you. Here is how we break it all down. 

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