Teen Summer Musical a Springboard to a Life of Performance for Seattle youth

by Susan Fried

The Teen Summer Musical has been a tradition in Seattle isince 1996. Except for a brief hiatus in the early 2000s, Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute has been the home for between 60 and 100 kids for 8 to 10 weeks every summer. The kids audition a few weeks after school ends for the summer. Those who are chosen rehearse from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week until they perform the finished product in August.

This year’s musical is Cinderella, A Love Story With the Sound of Motown. It features a cast of 60 young people,  ages 8 to 18. Some of the young people are new to the Teen Musical but others like Angeline Riley, 15, who plays Cinderella, is performing in her fourth Teen Musical. She says she wants to continue doing the Teen Musical until she’s 18 and ages out of the program.

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Kids audition for the chance to be in the Summer Teen Musical in May at Rainier Beach Community Center. (Photo: Susan Fried)

“This is like home to me, this is definitely a place I would come back to, just because you get better every year, everyone grows, you meet new people, you meet old people,” she said. “It’s a place where people that look like you can all do something that we aren’t always given the chance to do, which is perform.”

Riley said she’d had a little experience performing in the past, but the Teen Musical gave her a chance to perform on a bigger stage.

Riley said she wants to continue in performing arts when she gets older.

“Performing arts is like my first love,” she said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I think it’s something I still want to keep doing, especially because of this program.”

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Angelina Riley and Jaydon Beleford, who play Cinderella and the Prince, stop during the Umoja Parade to pose for a picture. (Photo: Susan Fried)

Jessica Clipper, who is also performing in her fourth musical said: “I really love coming here. I look forward to it during the year, I look forward to seeing what I call my Langston family. We really are like a family. We fight sometimes but at the end of the day we still have each other and that’s what I love, the family we have.”

Akila Griffin, also in her fourth production, said she keeps coming back for the “positive atmosphere and the way the mentors believe in us, in ways that other people like the teachers in our schools don’t.” She said that the adults involved in the musical give her the encouragement that keeps her wanting to come back and learn more and do better.

The teen musical has helped launch the careers of some local performing artists including Romell Witherspoon, Sassyblack, Felicia Loud, Maxie Jamal, Jorden Bolden and Lauren Dupree.

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Musical Director Michelle Lang (center, leaning) and Director Isiah Anderson Jr. (right) work with performers during rehearsal for Cinderella. (Photo: Susan Fried)

Michael Allen, who performed in the Teen Musical’s original production of Cinderella in 1999, credits his eight years of performing in the Teen Musicals for giving him the self confidence he has today.

“This program was a game changer, a life changer, the sense of community, the empowerment to push, and find out who you are onstage and off stage,” he said. “It set me up for my career because I can walk into any room and be confident because that’s what you learn here because your in a safe space. The artistic talent and the team that runs this program is out of this world.”

Allen said the experience was transforming.

“As a little white kid that was raised in the Central District, I found home here that was accepting and nurturing. I get out in the real world and because of my privilege, what I am and who I am, I look at the world in a different way and I would not have done that if I hadn’t had these kind of opportunities,” he said. “I think it’s really important especially in our current climate to have programs like this that are empowering in a positive way. You’re teaching these kids how to talk and be respectful and also to have pride and confidence with what they do with their bodies and their movement and their voice.”

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Clay Marshall gets some dancing direction form Cinderella choreographer Tyrone “Koach T” Crosby. (Photo: Susan Fried)

Angeline Riley said that the end of the last performance is bitter sweet. “”Every cast party at the end of the show, it’s like so hard to say bye to people. When the curtain closes, everyone starts crying, no one wants to leave the cast party. No one wants to leave. We’re all just holding on to each other forever. Until Mr. Isaih eventually has to kick us out.”

Cinderella, A Love Story With the Sound of Motown runs Aug. 16th through 19th at Benaroya Hall. For ticket information call 206-215-4747 or go to their website.

Featured Image: Cast of Cinderella does a brief preview performance for family and friends at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.


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