NBC'S 'SMASH' MAKE A MUSICAL, School #7 - Westinghouse Academy, Pittsburgh

NBC'S 'SMASH' MAKE A MUSICAL, School #7 - Westinghouse Academy, Pittsburgh

School #7: Westinghouse Academy

Pittsburgh, PA

Reported by: Cindy Ripley, iTheatrics Senior Education Associate, Resident Master Teacher

January 30, 2012

The great jazz legend, Duke Ellington, often spoke of his favorite music arranger, Billy Strayhorn.  In Ellington’s words, “Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head and his in mine.”  I walked through the doors of this imposing stone structure in the shadow of these musical icons.  In the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, PA, Westinghouse Academy is a school serving grades 6-12 and was Billy Strayhorn’s alma mater.  Once home to 1800 students, this neighborhood school now serves 300.

What’s missing in 2012?  A creative environment that inspires kids to dream.  I was told that the biggest tragedy for these kids is that they see no possibilities happening for them.  Their world view is limited. The footlights are dust covered. The 1,000 seat auditorium has been empty for ten years.   Will the “NBC’s ‘Smash’: Make a Musical” project reincarnate this glorious past?

The team that will surround and support these kids throughout this project is nothing short of outstanding. It is comprised of “Muzz” Meyers, the community’s in-school coordinator, Dan Derks, education director from the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, Tamara Goldbugen, project advisor from the University of Pittsburgh, and music director and artist Bridgette Perdue.  This multi-talented team has placed the needs of these students and the “Smash” project at the core of their mission; they will do whatever it takes.

The “forgotten” stage became our laboratory for two hours. I worked with 20 Westinghouse Academy students who had no common ground other than the curiosity about an announcement of a “school play.”  An unusual gathering, especially on a student vacation day.

My usual concerns about focus, engagement and commitment were immediately dispelled.  Their energy, personality and responses blew the dust off the footlights!

As I shared how personal and powerful their artistry can be toward achieving their dreams, the silence of their rapt attention and the emotion in their eyes moved me to tears.

Reflecting on my own formative years, my first memory as a pianist in my high school jazz band was playing Erroll Garner’s jazz standard “Misty.”  Oh yeah, Erroll Garner graduated from Westinghouse Academy, too.  Has my life come full circle today?  Will these be the talented and unique kids that resurrect this cultural legacy?  I’d bet on it.  Oh, yes I would!

“NBC’s ‘Smash’: Make A Musical” program is administered by iTheatrics under the supervision of Timothy Allen McDonald.  For more information, or to apply to become a part of the program, logon to www.MAKEAMUSICAL.ORG.