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Mount Vernon Performing and Visual Arts Magnet Program Students to Perform August Wilson’s ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’

Under the direction of Dr. Evelyn Collins, students from the Mount Vernon Performing and Visual Arts Magnet Program will take the stage to perform August Wilson’s play, ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ Performances are scheduled for Friday, March 1 and Saturday, March 2, 2019, at 6:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 3, 2019, at 3:00 p.m. at Nellie Thornton High School, located at 121 South 6th Avenue, Mount Vernon.

Set in Chicago in the 1920s, ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ depicts themes of religion, sexism, and the exploitation of African Americans in the music industry. The play is based on the real-life blues artist, Ma Rainey, and is required reading for the 12thgrade ELA curriculum across New York State, thus serving as a way to educate students about the culture and history of the time.

“This is a teachable moment for our students. Ma Rainey, the Mother of the Blues, was a forerunner for Bessie Smith and many other blues musicians. The history lessons contained in this production are enormous and preparing for this production has allowed me to fully immerse the students in the period. It’s life-changing for them to learn, study, and then present the content which includes how systemic racism has negatively impacted generations of African American musicians and their families,” said Dr. Collins, Principal of Thornton High School and District Director of the Performing Arts Program.

This is the first non-musical performance Dr. Collins has directed with the students since the program began under her direction in 2015. Last year, she and her students presented ‘The Lion King, Jr.’ to critical acclaim.  More than 4,000 patrons were in attendance for the run of the musical.

“It is my personal goal to produce one of August Wilson’s works per year. I’ve seen the complete ten-play cycle on Broadway and had the honor of meeting Mr. Wilson when his niece was my student at Wadleigh Arts in Harlem, and I was directing his drama ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,’” said Dr. Collins. “He was a poet first, thus making his writing very lyrical. ‘Ma Rainey’ is part of a ten-play cycle depicting the African American experience in each decade and I am honored to have our talented students bring August Wilson’s drama to life on stage in Mount Vernon.”

Tickets for the upcoming performances are $15 per person and can be purchased via Brown Paper Tickets or one hour before curtain at the school’s box office. The production will be the first in the new 200-seat Experimental Theatre at Nellie Thornton High School.  The renovated Woods Auditorium will seat 1,600 and open on June 8, 2019, with the musical production of ‘The Wiz’.