Louisville Magazine

SEP 2018

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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92 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 9.18 KIDS OF COLOR PLAY ALL ROLES b In a theater at 13th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, an audience of about 200 sit with programs on laps, awaiting dimmed lights. Backstage, a cast of nearly 30 — all ages 12 to 18 — pulses with giddy excitement. is is their finish line. ey've spent all summer perfecting songs, choreographing dance moves, memorizing a script. It demanded eight weeks of rehearsals that lasted six hours every day, Monday through Friday. e week before their first show, they logged 12-hour days polishing the performance. Now, purple light gently settles on what looks like a Caribbean island. e musical Once on is Island begins. e show tells the story of a peasant girl uniting social classes in her tropical homeland. It's the sixth staged performance by the Youth Repertory eater Troupe of Louisville, a group of teens led by Erica Bledsaw, a 35-year- old who works as the manager of youth education and fine arts at the Louisville Central Community Centers in the Russell neighborhood. She started the troupe about four years ago. At the time, she was working as a bookkeeper at Jefferson County Public Schools, writing plays and performing in community theater in her spare time. One night before a rehearsal for a performance of e Color Purple, she had an idea: a youth performing-arts camp in west Louisville. She threw a post up on Facebook with a link to a GoFundMe page for a theater camp that, she now admits, was just a whim, a vision in its infancy. "I came out of rehearsal and I had a $50 donation," she recalls. "I was like, 'Oh, this works. Now I have to really do this!'" She partnered with Metro Parks and hosted 52 kids and teens for a summer camp at the Shawnee Arts and Cultural Center. Since then, she has landed her job at LCCC and grown the troupe, offering not only a performing-arts summer camp, but free afterschool theater programming. Bledsaw animates when talking about the "magic of theater." She wants any and all youth to experience the stage, from costume and set design to lighting and choreography. Most of the young actors she works with are African- American, and she strongly believes in casting them in roles that maybe wouldn't otherwise go to a person of color. Her group has performed Beauty and the Beast and A Christmas Carol. "is is the only troupe in west Louisville. StageOne is a children's theater. But it's so hard to break into a StageOne or Actors eatre," Bledsaw says. "ey have what they are looking for, and the kids that come over here aren't what they are looking for because they're black. Just point blank. Unless it's a show that calls for a black character." b A very young Bledsaw could often be spotted on the staircase in her childhood home, brush in hand, belting out a song. She'd arrange dolls and stuffed animals as an audience and rubber-band a towel to her head so she could dramatically swing the terry cloth like it was long hair. "My mom calls me a ham," she says with a laugh. She was a staple in church choir and dabbled in performance arts while at Male High School. To this day, if there's a show tune playing, especially if it's one of her favorites — anything Disney and Once on is Island — she can't help but leap in and sing along. But when she was little, her parents instilled the belief that the arts were a hobby. A college degree should guarantee a comfortable paycheck. So she studied business management at Sullivan University and worked for several years as a bookkeeper and secretary at JCPS. at $50 donation to the not-yet-created youth arts camp back in 2014 snowballed

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