Anthony Bean Community Theater

A Camp Where Stars Are Born

By: Edwin Buggage

ABCT Summer Camp Inspires Greatness in Young People

Summer is swiftly approaching, and registration has begun for the Anthony Bean Community Theater – ABCT Performing Arts Summer Camp. The ABCT Summer Program is more than a Camp…It’s Culture! The theater camp is an exciting 9-Week Developmental Theater Arts Program for children ages 7-17, under the tutelage of the award-winning, highly acclaimed Actor, Director, & Playwright, Anthony Bean.

“One of things I enjoy most is working with children training them as actors are seeing them grow and develop,” says Bean. “Some even make it a career goal, I am proud when I see many of my former students that includes renowned actors such as Wendell Pierce and Gary Anthony Sturgis doing well and knowing that I was one of the bricks that set the foundation for them reaching their full potential.”

The ABCT Summer Performance Arts Camp provides a sense of community and promotes self-awareness and personal development. The students are immersed in a theatrical experience that not only educates them about the arts but fosters cultural awareness, team work, and respect for one another. Additionally, it helps them understand how to use their emotions to create roles and learn about themselves. The program is all encompassing as it relates to theater arts, which includes acting, playwriting, rehearsal & production, performance, costuming, lighting and set building.

Celebrating and Examining Community through the Arts

Beaming with pride of the success of his camp over the years Bean remarks, “I have been doing it for at least 45 years. The camp focuses on representation, self-pride, identity, communication skills all those things but most of all self-worth. All of those things fit into acting lessons.”

Bean feels that it is important that African-Americans control the narrative when telling stories about their community. This has been something that is key to his work over the years as he’s presented many stories onstage over the years that’s explored many topics but told through an African-American lens. “Seeing yourself on stage and telling your own story is important especially today. For too long it’s been told by other races and oftentimes it is distorted and plays to stereotypes and is a misrepresentation of who we are as a people,” Bean says passionately. “I think it’s very important for a Black child or a Black person in general to look at themselves onstage or on television and say yes that is my story. We do exist, and I am important.”

The ABCT Performing Arts Summer Camp experience always culminates with a much-awaited production, showcasing the phenomenal ABCT kids. This year’s end of the summer production will be the Tony-nominated and OBIE Award-Winning hit musical play, “The Me Nobody Knows”. This production is highly celebrated, touching audiences throughout the world for generations. Within the span of a single day, the show poetically examines the aspirations and fears of a multi-racial cast of young people. Inspired by actual writings of students in the New York City Public Schools, the stories are universal, and can be shared by and with all races. The powerful and contemporary score carries and propels each individual journey. The size of the cast may vary according to the needs of each production.

Many of the young people who participate are with the camp for many years and become stock players in his ensemble. Nyja White is a junior at McDonough 35 who has been part of ABCT since she was seven years old and has benefitted from her experiences at ABCT. “ABCT has helped me with my communication skills, confidence and expanded my love of theater and because of ABCT I want to study theater in college.”

Empowering, Protecting and Respecting our Cultural Institutions

This year’s camp will be taking place at Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO), Bean feels this is a good fit where in addition to being exposed to theater the students get an opportunity to also have an enriching experience of being on the campus of an HBCU that’s produced many of the great leaders of New Orleans and beyond. It also shows that Black Institutions can partner to do great things.

“SUNO is a Black college and it is very community oriented,” says Bean of his partnership with SUNO. “But I hope that next year we will be back in our own space; brining my company onto a Black college is almost like, it’s inevitable, its magic, it is supposed to be,” with a note of hope, optimism and pride in his voice. “If a cultural institution needs space until their space is ready, I don’t know what better place to go than another Black Institution. Whether it is a university or a church, we need those kinds of alliances if we are to prosper as a people.”

Art with A Purpose and the Rebuilding of a Human

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we have seen the City go through changes with some opinioned range of viewpoints; some for the better, worse or is it somewhere in between? New Orleans is a City that is a cultural jewel that’s celebrating 300 years in 2018. Its heritage is that of living, breathing ever evolving culture. What Bean has done throughout his years in theater is tell our stories, who we are what we were, what we are and where we are going. He believes his and other Black owned and controlled institutions are important in telling our story?

Speaking about the importance of art and artists telling the story of a civilization Bean says, “I don’t remember exactly what empire it was that was destroyed, but the king did not call on the architects he said send in the poets, send in the artists I want to see the writers we need to give the people hope.”

Bean feels the creative arts are a way that Blacks have historically, made their cases and articulated their inclusion as part of the human family. “In the 60’s we had Curtis Mayfield, we had James Brown we had it in music for ages. We had the Black Arts Movement in the 60’s and 70’s with Sonia Sanchez saying that we should love and understand each other. This is important we say these things through our art because we have been stripped of who we are. We have been stripped as a human being. In our history we had to rebuild a human being. We had to reconstruct what it meant to be human, because when this country first started we were looked at as 3/5ths a person. Even though we were out of slavery; laws, customs and practices kept us as second-class citizens. We have become free, but many of the remnants of this still exist in our community. This is why is it important for ABCT, and any Black-Owned Enterprise must support each other so we can control and to tell our stories and give ourselves a spiritual lift. We must do this to also let the world know that we are human beings and that we deserve to be respected and protected as human beings.”

ABCT Building for the Future

Anthony Bean Theater has done amazing productions in its former uptown location, but today Bean is focused on securing the financing for a planned multi-purpose facility dedicated to the arts.

“We have the plans drawn up for the building that is the old St. Raymond Church and school on Paris Avenue that will house a recording studio, a dance studio, a media newsroom and of course a theater where we will be training kids. It is also important to note that this will be it Black owned,” remarks Bean. Continuing he says, “We need to teach them the true techniques of acting but from our perspective. We can teach them to assimilate, but how to be your true self, how we walk, and talk, we have a whole new magic to bring forth and the world would love us for it. Because we already teach the world to sing and dance and we can continue that with acting if we understand who we are as a people and our stories have value that all people can relate to.”

Over the years ABCT Productions and his camps continue to be successful by all measures. Bean is thankful for all the support he’s gotten and says he will continue in his mission to inspire the community through the arts.

“I have been blessed that the Black parents have always given me their children. I have always had at least 100 children in my summer program, they trust and believe in what I am doing. Financially that is another story and I know a lot of us do not have the money, but for those who do can help sustain what I am trying to do we would love for your support. Because there’s nothing like telling a Black child this was designed with you in mind, and really mean it. It is a beautiful thing to tell them I did it all for you.”

The ABCT Performing Arts Summer Camp begins Monday, June 4 – Friday, August 5, 2018 for kids aged 7-17. No prior experience is needed. Camp hours are Monday – Friday: 8:30 A.M. – 3 P.M. Breakfast and lunch are provided daily, on site. Register now! *For registration, please call 504-862-PLAY today*

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Photos by Kichea S. Burt Highlights from the 2018 Downtown Super Sunday.

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