Shining a light on our amazing alumni as we celebrate Black History Month!
With such a rich array of successful alum, it’s easy to celebrate contributions of Black artists simply by reconnecting with VPA graduates. This week, we honor and celebrate former VPA students who’ve made their mark on the world and helped shape their respective art forms.
Barnett is a VPA Theatre grad who attended Juilliard after high school. His big break roared forth forceful as a flame: he starred as Peter Mills on NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” and later starred in the Emmy-nominated Netflix series “Russian Doll” and the Netflix series “Tales from the City.” He’s appeared in a number of films and TV shows as well, and has reunited with other VPA alum to produce productions in Los Angeles, where he resides.
We’ve learned also through Charlie’s mom, Danee, that he is slated to shoot a second season of “Russian Doll” soon, so be sure to remain vigilant for the return of that critically acclaimed thought-provoking show!
Not only has Charlie’s career made his Booker VPA family proud, but he also has supported the future of the arts by providing scholarship funds through our Kaleidoscope of Creativity scholarship program. We are grateful for his unflagging support of the VPA and our aspiring artists and inspired by his kindness, generosity, and example.
LaMichael Leonard, VPA Dance graduate, has made history by becoming the first Black principal in the Lido de Paris Dance Company in Paris, France.
LaMichael Zoomed into Ms. Courtney’s dance classes Wednesday to share his insights as a Black artist, what it means to listen to your passions vs. trends, and what he’s doing at Lido de Paris to hold company managers accountable for bringing diversity to the stage.
As a bonus, during the Zoom, he walked the streets of Paris, interspersing words of wisdom with views of Notre-Dame and other points of interest.
We were fortunate to have LaMichael here just two years ago, on a break from overseas, when he taught at his alma mater and inspired those students to be their best selves and dancers. Booker VPA alum seem called to give back.
On Friday, the Dance Department had the chance to meet Atlanta-based dancer Camia Green, who’s successful commercial dance career has taken her to stages all around the world.
During the Zoom, she shared stories about her career in commercial dance, leveling with the students about how her Blackness has shaped her career, from casting probabilities to wig management.
Camia offered tips and lessons learned along the way, lamenting that often in an audition room, while she’ll find camaraderie with other Black women dancers, the reality is that only one will likely be cast:
“They will just throw one Black person in the cast and be like, ‘this is diversity.’ And that’s not really diversity. Diversity is all ethnicities, all backgrounds, everyone’s sexual orientation: that’s what diversity is.”
Film students enjoy screen time in ‘Fear of Rain’
Four Film students and their teacher, Mr. John Timpe, appear onscreen in Lionsgate’s new film, “Fear of Rain,” a psychological thriller directed by Castille Landon. The film explores schizophrenia through its teenaged protagonist.
The gig was offered by one of the film’s producers, Lori Abrams. Dr. Abrams’ daughter Ashley, who graduated from the Theatre Department, also appears in the film as a feature role.
Mr. Timpe said that beyond the fun of seeing himself and his students, including his daughter Maren, on film, the experience provided a firsthand education of a professional film shoot.
“It was like Film 401,” Timpe said. “Just observing the work of the crew was an education.”
Other than Maren, former film students Heather Garcia, Kiara Harris, and Lindsey Jennings appear in campus scenes.
Timpe himself ended up being recruited as a teacher in the film. His job was to pop open a door to investigate a kerfuffle in the hallway between the protagonist and another student.
“We had to do, like, 15 takes. I was nervous that if I didn’t get my part right, I’d ruin that moment in the film,” Timpe said.
The film was shot on location at Hillsborough High School and other Tampa, Sarasota and St. Pete areas. VPA Film students participated in May 2019, just after Timpe and Abrams met at the Kaleidoscope of Creativity fundraiser at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe rooftop that year.
Timpe said Abrams was determined to get VPA Film students onto a professional film set.
Timpe was invited to a private premiere of the screening when it was released in theatres on Feb. 12. It’s available on demand at iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, and Vudu. It will also be released to DVD and Blu-Ray.
SaraSolo bears great collaboration
The VPA Theatre Department received a check for $1,185 for the SoloSynergy plays written and directed by the VPA Theatre level 3 class. The project is a collaboration with SaraSolo director and Broadway actress Ann Morrison. Smith, Morrison, and Walton work with the junior class in writing and rehearsing personal, one-woman/man shows that offer audiences an intimate look into the lives of these young artists.
This year, due to Covid, the performances were recorded and streamed, with a pay-as-you-can fee structure. All proceeds were given directly to the Theatre Department. Ms. Smith, on behalf of the VPA Theatre Department, thanks SaraSolo for their partnership and generosity, and all who tuned in to see these performances. Community support for the VPA is humbling!