At the beginning of the year when we were rehearsing Motown the Musical, I was having dinner with adopted family members Sharon D Clarke and Susie McKenna. I knew that Susie had worked at the Hackney Empire for years, and she told me about the artist development programme that takes place every summer. Immediately I was intrigued, and when she mentioned that they had chosen Motown as a theme this summer, I jumped at the chance to get the Motown the Musical company involved. So, an incredible collaboration developed with the Hackney Empire.
Hackney Empire Artist Development Programme participants rehearse with West End cast of Motown the Musical. Eight (8) Photos: Fabrice Bourgelle
Now more than ever, it’s so important for those of us working in the industry to inspire younger audiences and give them the ‘permission’ they need to open the door for their futures. Education is imperative for me, so being able to have the West End’s Motown the Musical company performing with these students is incredible. They are able to share their experiences and inspire young talent to dream big.
I was very fortunate because I descended from a long line of teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc, who were all activists. They gave me permission to dream despite the colour of my skin, despite growing up in a rural Carolina town. They encouraged me to study in England for my junior year of college. Little did they realise that my time here would change my life forever, and I would not become the doctor they expected me to be.
In directing Motown the Musical, I want to inspire youngsters to dream as my relatives did for me, and give them permission to walk through those doors that often appear to be closed.
When one attains that permission from someone who looks like them, it can be life-changing. The audience at the Hackney Empire last Sunday watched the lives of 40 students change. They were accomplished, intense, imaginative, funny, and moving. Despite their young ages, their work was dedicated and inspiring.
I am extremely proud of my Motown family who gave back to the local community (on their day off) by working and performing with my new Hackney family. I wish everyone could have experienced what we did last Sunday. Together we all realised that no matter what obstacles may be thrown at us, there really ain’t no mountain high enough.