Interviewed by Joanna Calhoun, ARAD ’23
What is your current role at Aurway Repertory Theater, and what led you to this position?
I was originally brought onto the Aurway team by way of company Co-founder, Lawrence Dandridge, who for many years prior had been building the foundation of Aurway with his network of friends and artists from the greater Newark area. A lot of us either grew up performing together or have met through his artistic nucleus. Based on my interests and skills in arts administration he asked me to be a part of the founding team and help propel his and Co-founder, Veronica Gonmiah’s vision for the organization.
Where is Aurway Repertory Theater located, and how long have you worked there?
We are based out of Newark, New Jersey. We currently don’t have a physical location at the but through rentals, and community partnerships are able to utilize various spaces in the greater Newark area. Officially as a company, we incorporated in 2020 however as a collective and a group, many have been performing together for over 10 years. I’ve joined in with them in the last 5 years.
What are your main responsibilities?
As the Director of Marketing and Development, I’m charged with driving the fundraising strategy as well as the business operations of the company. This leads me to write email communications, create and layout website content, manage the company database, write grant proposals, communicate with patrons and donors, and curate fundraising events. I am also an active company member participating in the cast of many of our original works.
Can you tell us about Aurway Repertory Theater and its mission and goals as an organization?
Aurway was birthed out of the idea of creating a platform for black and brown artists and voices. Through community partnerships, educational workshops, and public performances we create space for artists and viewers alike to engage in a dialogue on pressing social issues impacting our community while experiencing an unconventional approach to artmaking and theatrical performance. With that, we also recognize that our art is not just a form of entertainment but a tool that to be used for impact. We challenge all our members to be not just performers but ARTISTs geared to make a lasting change in and out of our community.
Our official mission states “Aurway is a network of emerging and professional artists dedicated to the pursuit, presentation, and creation of culturally relevant art, highlighting the experiences of black and brown people.”
What kinds of programming has Aurway done this past season?
This past season Aurway has been working our way back into the world with some live events. In September we were featured in the Newark Arts Festival with, “An Evening with Aurway”, where we performed a few of our favorite original Aurway tunes. In addition, we continued our concert series, “Musicals in Concert”, with a virtual presentation of our newest work Life Through My Eyes as well as a live presentation and reunion of Wishlist, an original work by playwright, Kathy D. Harrison. We also have a bi-monthly play reading series called, PlayTime, where we read and explore works by black and brown playwrights.
We also got in the studio this past season to record the official cast album of Something Like a Fairytale, another original work written and composed by Aurway Co-founder and Artistic Director, Lawrence Dandridge. Available for pre-order now!
How has COVID-19 affected your work and Aurway?
Last year right before COVID, we were revved up to do a lot of new things in 2020. This included a residency at a local arts high school as well as a few live programs and workshops. So, as many artists and organizations had to do, we adjusted to virtual programming. We created a virtual series called “Staying Home” where we had interviews and discussions with the workshop cast of Coming Home, an Aurway original musical. In addition, for woman’s history month, we had our first virtual “Musicals in Concert” with a presentation of What Comes Next, another original Aurway work. We also held our first annual Kwanzaa fundraiser and celebration, uJAMaa, which was our first look at putting on a live-streamed event. Through the pandemic, we have learned to try new things and think outside of the box in the ways in which we reach audiences. I now believe more organizations should and will continue to incorporate a virtual aspect to their performance and increase access.
On the sadder note, however, Aurway experienced a huge loss this year with the passing of our dear friend and fellow team member, Jeremiah Trusty. Jeremiah was quintessential to building the foundation of this company. He was also a genuinely wonderful soul and a blessing to those he came in contact with. He is greatly missed. ❤
Can you tell us more about Aurway’s newest work, Life Through My Eyes, and what it is about?
Life Through My Eyes is a short musical, that follows the story of Tony, a young teen riddled with depression and anxiety. Through a series of journal entries, a group of his peers read through his experiences. Set to music and monologues, the group explores Tony’s inner thoughts in hopes that he will avoid the same devasting end that claimed his mother. This piece explores suicide awareness and the realities that face many urban teenagers.
This show was originally set to have its stage debut this past July as a part of the New York SummerFest 2021, however with continuing pandemic restrictions the production was postponed until this Fall. We are now gearing up for performances in the next two weeks! Come check us out! Click the image for more information.
Life Through My Eyes
Wednesday, December 8th, 4:00pm,
Friday, December 10th, 6:30pm,
Sunday, December 12th, 1:00pm
107 Suffolk St.,
New York, NY 10002
We are also adapting this show into a feature-length film set to be released sometime in summer 2022. Check out our trailer!!
Can you tell us more about the annual fundraiser and Kwanzaa celebration, uJAMaa?
So uJAMaa is our annual Kwanzaa celebration and fundraiser to support our programming and operations for the next year. It only started last year, but we’d love for this program to grow into a huge annual event. We chose Kwanzaa specifically because of the intention and history that the holiday was built in. Created back in 1966, as the first African American holiday, I believe Kwanza founder, Maulana Karenga, wanted to redirect the mindset of African-American people and give us something to help redefine our identity, purpose, and direction as people in America. Through the use of 7 communitarian principles (the “Ngozu Saba”), Kwanzaa seeks to reconnect people of African descent to cultural and historical heritage. Similarly, Aurway was created as a space for us to reconnect and promote artistry that is genuinely steeped in our culture and experiences. Giving us the power to discover and express our identity, purpose, and direction as artists of color.
It’s going to be a night of songs, poetry, dance, and conversation as we raise funds for 2022.
If you would like to support visit our page at www.aurway.org
What is the most rewarding part about working with Aurway Repertory Theatre?
I think the most rewarding part about Aurway is getting to publicly promote and tell these stories. I know how they make me feel after being a part of them and it’s exciting to know that an audience member may see these pieces and immediately connect to the work in a way that they never have with musical theatre. It’s a nuanced twist on a traditional art form. It’s a seat at the table we built. I think people underestimate the power of inclusion and representation and what that can do for another’s intrinsic motivation. I look forward to the fires that Aurway will continue to ignite.