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The Voice of the Black Community


Stage presence
Production of ‘The Color Purple’ puts art school in limelight
Published Wednesday, February 13, 2013 1:14 pm
by Herbert L. White


Northwest School of the Arts’ production of “The Color Purple” is headed to the Super Bowl of high school theatre.

Mekhai Lee, portraying Mister and Keston Steele (Celie) perform a scene from “The Color Purple at Northwest School of the Arts. avontre Booker and Clayton Stephenson are in the immediate background.

NWSA is the first Charlotte-Mecklenburg school invited to the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln Neb., June 24-29. The last N.C. school to perform at the showcase was Weaver Arts Academy in Greensboro in 1980.

“They invite the best of high school theatre,” said Corey Mitchell, an NWSA teacher and director of “The Color Purple.” “That’s been our goal for a long, long time.”

A panel of theatre educators and professionals invite the nation’s best productions to the showcase at the University of Nebraska. They are judged on several criteria, including costumes, choreography and sets, with the best advancing to the main stage.
“No pressure at all,” Mitchell said.

Northwest is the first N.C. high school and second in the nation to receive permission from Theatrical Rights Worldwide to do a musical production of Alice Walker’s play. The cast performed in September at Central Piedmont Community College’s Halton Theater. NWSA went all out for “Purple,” from the costumes’ design to bringing in Broadway cast members as mentors. A couple of Broadway veterans with Charlotte ties – singers Fantasia Barrino and Stephanie Mills – were recruited to teach master classes.

Festival rules require the entire cast and crew to participate, bringing NWSA’s travel bill to $131,000. Wells Fargo Foundation gave a $50,000 grant earlier this month to help cover expenses. The cast and supporters are raising the rest.

“This is an unbelievable opportunity for great students with great talent,” Kendall Alley, Wells Fargo’s Charlotte regional president told the cast at the presentation. “We believe in helping people succeed by helping to get them where they’re going. There’s a goal to be made and that’s to get you to Nebraska.”

“The entire cast, the crew, the orchestra, the costumers and technicians… we’re taking 92 people,” Mitchell said. “I’m searching for people and civic organizations to talk to. I would love to talk to any of the fraternities or sororities or the Links. Any of those people, reaching out to them and talking to them about the quality of what we’re doing and the enormity of what we’re doing.”

Along with preparations for the trip, Mitchell is directing multiple productions at Northwest, a magnet school that draws students from across the county. Theatre and classroom work will take up his time on campus but the thespian festival won’t be far away. The cast will perform an encore performance on June 15 at Ovens Auditorium, with proceeds going to pay for transportation and lodging in Nebraska.

“The cast of ‘The Color Purple’ is on hold until the middle of May because we start ‘Footloose’ in about a month and we have ‘Godspell’ immediately after ‘The Color Purple,’” he said. “It’s still directing a full season here at Northwest and all of the other shows we get.”
For information on the play on to contribute, call Mitchell at (704) 763-6086 or email corey_mitchell@hotmail.com.



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