So this won’t be a typical review, as this is not your typical night at the theatre. Rebel Verses 2018 is a night when youth from numerous organizations made up of young artists, ages 13-19, are granted the opportunity to collaborate and network with their peers and certain prominent artists in order to to showcase original work. It’s a powerful and uniquely engaging two-week theatrical event, now gracing the stage in its second season Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre. It features over one hundred artists and performers from ten youth-based companies from all five boroughs of New York City and beyond. It was born out of the important and life-changing need for these young new voices in theatre to take over the stage and tell us all that we need to know. In their own words and manner. It is an unapologetic and uncensored blast of personal creativity and political expression that will restore your hope in humanity and its future. The poetic Rebel Verses come flying out like a rhythmic blast, sometimes angry but more often frustrated and concerned. Singing and harmonizing out of the mouths of the next generation of theatrical writers and performers, this night of thoughtful artistic composition and expression shouldn’t be missed.
Each night, a prominent Guest Artist joins the festival for a special performance, hoping to inspire and enlighten the path forward.
Week One features the performances of young-artist involved in the following companies: The Door (NYC), Alumni Theatre Company (Pittsburgh, PA), and The Brotherhood/Sister Sol (NYC). Developing Artists and Vineyard Theatre Student Ensemble will perform on all nights of the Festival. The special guest each night are as follows:
Thursday, August 9 – Daphne Rubin-Vega (Miss You Like Hell, Rent)
Friday, August 10 – Flaco Navaja (poet/actor/singer);
Saturday, August 11 – Kevin Mambo (FELA!)
Week Two (I was so lucky to attend on the 16th) features the MCC Youth Company (NYC), Epic Next (NYC), 6th Borough Slam (Jersey City, NJ), and Girl Be Heard (Brooklyn) with special guests:
Thursday, August 16 – Laura Gómez (“Orange is the New Black”)
Saturday, August 18 – Joe Morton (“Scandal,” Vineyard Board Member)
Laura Gómex was the featured artist the night I was at the Vineyard, and her closing presentation was a warm embrace for the road ahead. She presented an autobiographical immigrant story of her journey from Santo Domingo to New York City. It was drenched in kindly humor and simple expressionism that easily touched the heart of any person struggling to find their place, voice, and position. It was just what the doctor ordered for this surprisingly intense group of new artists. All of them, rising up to adulthood in this complicated and messed up world and wanting a voice in the debate. They performed works of deep anger and frustration with the powers that be (for the moment 🤞) that surround and sometimes engulf is all.
Each of the four companies performs pieces of poetic performance stomping and snapping with a vengeance at the troubles of the day, especially focusing on the #MeToo movement, immigration under the #OrangeMonster (and beyond), obscene racism, and overwhelming prejudice. Sexuality, although briefly pointed at, doesn’t really get enough stage time, but the others are consistently and forcibly addressed with surprising expertise and detailed power. The highlight of the evening, for me, was the presentation by the Developing Artists & Vineyard Theatre Student Ensemble, who started it all off with a title wave of compelling studies and stories in “Survivor to Activist, Activist to Artist…Artivism“. It was a solid piece of emotional complexity with a few very deep personal stories mixed in with political statements that couldn’t and shouldn’t be ignored.
Much like the young activists that came out of the Florida High School mass shooting, this youthful crew knows how to encompass a thought process and address it with solid punctuation of facts and ideas. MCC Youth Company did a thoughtful, although somewhat earnest exploration of all that is “Lost & Found” as we work hard to make sense of ourselves. Epic Next did a timely excerpt from “Building Blocks: Colorful Minds“, directed by Melissa Friedman, using theatre, dance, movement and comedy to examine how Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are taught in Public Schools, and the impact this pedagogy is having on diversity in the STEM workforce. The parade of teachers is hilarious but deeply disturbing especially when one of the good ones comes smack up to a brick walled administrator who doesn’t realize all the ways he is revolting. 6th Borough Slampresented a piece entitled, “Across“, exploring the real and perceived divisions, borders, and walls that separate us, through a series of poem that celbrate Latinx and Afro-Caribbean identities. It’s a beautifully orchestrated chamber piece of poetry and power that finds its identity in the madness that surrounds us.
Daphne Rubin-Vega, (Public’s Miss You Like Hell) a Developing Artists spokesperson and Advisory Board member, captures the essence of this magnificent collaboration when she stated:
“There is a void in our community that Developing Artists fills by establishing a creative home for young people and instilling in them a sense of confidence and freedom of expression. Growing up in the New York public school system, I wished for an artistic outlet that would give voice to my culture and experience… The positive impact Developing Artists has on both the performing arts community and our city as a whole is immeasurable. REBEL VERSES Youth Arts Festival is a hotbed of new forms of learning through the arts, empowering young people to become successful artists and allowing them to recognize that their stories are a part of the fabric of this world.”
Developing Artists was launched in 1999, led by Artistic Director Jill DeArmon and Executive Director Jinn S. Kim. DeArmon and Kim joined The Vineyard in 2015-16 as Education Directors for The Vineyard’s Education program, now in its 19th year serving local public high school students and teachers. Developing Artists and Vineyard Theatre focused their combined Arts-Education efforts on student empowerment and the development of writing and collaboration skills. All this energy culminated in creating the electric new works for Rebel Verses.
“The Vineyard and Developing Artists share a mission to empower young artists to create original work for the stage, and to know their voices have value…We are excited to build on this shared vision and to once again partner on REBEL VERSES. Together we seek to create more opportunities for young artists who are speaking powerfully to their experiences and to our current moment, and to help their voices reach and inspire an even wider audience.” – Sarah Stern, Artistic Director of Vineyard Theatre.
This creation of opportunities is an idea that needs encouragement and support. As our host almost breaks down with the revelations of how much this program saved his soul, we must dig into our pockets and our hearts for the support it deserves. Beyond the good cause, the night was exciting and engaging, worthy of our time and energy on a hot summer’s night. Performances of Rebel Voices 2018 – Youth Arts Festival take place at Vineyard Theatre Aug 9-11 & 16-18 beginning at 7:00 PM each night. Tickets range from $5-$25. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit www.vineyardtheatre.org or call the box office at 212-353-0303.