By Shawn Chitnis

ARVADA, Colo. (CBS4)– The second episode in the online series “Amplify” by the Arvada Center premiered Friday showcasing local Black male artists. Created in response to calls of racial injustice and the criticism of the theater industry lacking diversity, online episodes features performances of dance, plays, poems, and songs.

(credit: Arvada Center)

“The Arvada Center recognizes that they haven’t done enough work to have diverse voices on their stage and in their work,” Betty Hart told CBS4 on Friday. “During this time, they wanted to find a way to use their platform to help amplify Black voices.”

A professional actor and director based in Colorado, Hart was approached by the Arvada Center to create online content during the COVID-19 pandemic for their audience. She asked 15 Black men who are local artists to pick the work they wanted to perform for “Amplify” over multiple episodes.

“We wanted to hear from Black male artists, what was on their heart, their mind, and their spirits during this time,” she said on a video conference call. “For too long, people of color haven’t had the same level of opportunities in theater.”

The move by the Arvada Center comes as people of color in this profession across the nation have called out leaders in a campaign called “We See You, White American Theater” launched in June. They are advocating for more inclusion of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color or BIPOC artists.

(credit: Arvada Center)

“Well I think that speaks to the power of having versatility and having diverse voices,” Hart said. “We can do a little bit of everything, and that’s kind of what’s at the heart of theater artists, theater artists are versatile people capable of telling different stories.”

The first episode of “Amplify” debuted online in June with singers choosing the Black national anthem and a piece from “Les Misérables.” Other artists performed the words of Shakespeare and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Following episodes will include dancer and musicians, Hart announced Friday that they are also developing episodes with Black women.

“It gives the actors the chance to create, which is a beautiful thing,” she said. “It really helps the artist’s soul to be able to create.”

Hart hopes more projects like “Amplify” will change the tradition of Black stories usually limited to February for Black History Month or casting limited to those roles only specified as a person of color. She says the default in theater is white, so even when a character has no race, the actor cast is usually white.

“The Arvada Center is representative of America,” Hart said. “Arvada Center and the Arvada community and America have a desire to hear voices that are different than theirs.”

The project and the plans for more content like it are not only a reflection of the desire within the arts organization but also an interest from the public. While it keeps artists working during a pandemic, it is also providing new material to an audience that has already said it wants more. Hart says initial feedback has asked for the series to continue and has suggested other projects highlighting the Black experience.

(credit: Arvada Center)

“There is value when we lean and discover that someone who doesn’t look like me can tell me something that tells me and teaches me something about myself,” Hart said. “I think that’s kind of the American story at its heart, or the best parts of America when we do it right.”

She says this issue is not just among Black performers but also Latinx, Asian, and the LGBTQ communities. Hart considers “Amplify” a gift from the city of Arvada at a time when building bridges and connecting over the arts has more value than ever.

“The beautify of theatre is that it’s a tool to build empathy and I think it’s clear that our country right now needs empathy more than ever,” she said.

LINK: Arvada Center “Amplify” Series

Shawn Chitnis

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