HBO Talent Takes the Stage With Youth Org Opening Act
by Ashley Morton
An event dedicated to raising awareness for arts programs in NYC featured original work from HBO talent, and award-winning performers.
“There’s a misconception that fairytales in East New York can’t be done,” declared actor Anthony Ramos.
Ramos delivered the line like a dare, as Rome, a character from Dominique Fishback’s original play Rome & Ja’net. Rome has professed his love for a young woman he just met, and the two dream of leaving the gentrification conflict engulfing their East Brooklyn neighborhood behind.
Fishback’s one-act rewrite of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was The Deuce actor’s commissioned work for Opening Act’s “Hear Me Here” event, a fundraiser to raise awareness for their youth theater program. Fishback kicked off the evening’s performances with a reading that dropped Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter into current-day New York, where masquerades are protests, “Are we #RelationshipGoals?” is a social-media version of an honest question, and young, intelligent women are conflicted about careers, not arranged marriage.
“I’m a hopeless romantic,” Fishback revealed after her performance as Ja’net. “I’ve always wanted to play Juliet, and I was taught in my own youth community program not to wait for somebody to cast you in a role you want. So I thought I’d do my own spin on it.”
Inspired by a similar program from her youth, Fishback has been working with Opening Act for the past few years. “I’m from East Brooklyn, where the arts are not very popular,” she admitted. “When I met these students, I could see the same light in their eyes that I had.”
The organization’s executive director Suzy Myers Jackson explained the evening’s “Hear Me Here” theme, “We want to showcase the unique and powerful voices of our students,” she said. “This is more than theater; it’s about having a safe space, creating a family, and learning to be a leader and problem solve.”
Besides Fishback and Myers, Opening Act’s Artistic Advisory Board includes Insecure writer and actor Christopher Oscar Peña, who premiered his own one-act the easy way. Set on a Brooklyn-bound subway car, the reading’s stage direction, “F*ck the MTA,” was received with loud applause, as every New Yorker in the room got the message: The city is full of people from different backgrounds, different presents, different futures, but underground, we’re equally vulnerable.
Current students and Opening Act alumni joined Broadway stars like Ramos (Hamilton) and Billy Porter (Kinky Boots), along with actors such as Natalie Paul and Gbenga Akinnagbe (both of The Deuce) on stage. Pedigrees were equally impressive behind the scenes: Tony-award winner Kenny Leon directed; Emmy winner Alexa L. Fogel (The Deuce) cast, and the music was directed by Hamilton’s Ian Weinberger.
The students collaborated on their own piece inspired by workshops done in class; their spoken-word interludes broke up the wait between acts. The energy of the students after the curtain call was palpable.
“It was life-changing to be that supported,” said student Jose Suazo. Fellow performer Elyce Afrifa added, “It was very sentimental. Our piece about our dreams and fears came from us, our struggles and our hardships.”
As alum Christine Pluviose proclaimed: “I see the future and it has me in it.”
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