Performing Arts Program Reinvents “A Christmas Carol” Hip-Hop Style – York College / CUNY
The opening of the piece will take place this Friday, December 3 at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center (JPAC) at 7 p.m. According to director / producer, Professor Thomas Marion, it will be a treat.
“We are all looking forward to opening Friday for a weekend, live on stage at the beautiful Jamaica Center for the Performing Arts: original beats, songs and book in a rap’n, danc’n, sing’n funsical with eight wonderful York College students, two heavenly alumni and nine wonderful children of PS 176Q Cambria Heights, “said Prof. Marion.” Come celebrate Christmas early and in person! ”
Over the college’s 55-year history, the theater program has produced new, classic, and classic plays: dramas, comedies, and musicals, including “Antigone”, “Hamlet”, “Aida” and “Rent” . This latest production for York is a delightful interpretation of a classic story by the 19th century novelist. The fact that the Milton G. Bassin Performing Arts Center in York is undergoing a major renovation project made it necessary to move the piece off-site to JPAC.
When asked how they manage to make a major production in a time like this, Prof Marion explained the team’s effort.
“We auditioned last April without knowing what show we would be doing because we didn’t know if the school would be in person,” Marion explained. “Getting the rights to a play to play online is very difficult, it’s not the same as the rights to perform in person. We watched a number of plays, but those who auditioned agreed that it would be best to do something fun. Also, a few who auditioned and liked the idea of building a show from scratch including Joemal Rodrigues, a major in music production.
Marion says he always thought an updated “Christmas Carol” could be fun.
“Being in love with Hamilton, I quickly wrote an opening rap for Scrooge and sent it to Dean. [George] White, who created the course, The History of Hip-Hop. With his encouragement, I showed it to the cast, and they liked the idea as well.
The drama teacher says he “worked all summer to create a script skeleton of a few raps and dialogue filled with excerpts from the play.” They worked on Zoom until September working on rewrites and new ideas, with Rodriques building rhythms. They didn’t meet in person until the second week of October, leaving much less rehearsal time than usual.
“Normally, York College Theater shows rehearse at least 120 hours before opening night,” Marion explained. “Being able to only meet twice a week in person, and once a week on zoom, we had a lot of work to do. Fortunately, the show lasts an hour and a half, and not like “Julius Caesar”, our last show! It still turned into a bigger production than expected, with mics, special effects, great sets, songs and the struggles of bringing kids, COVID and masking, offsite rehearsals, parking, a move to JPAC and no money for a state manager until production week. It’s a miracle that this happens!
Explaining how York College’s Performing and Fine Arts Department has been successful in engaging children and young adults in the community, Professor Marion says it’s all about establishing and sustaining relationships.
“We connected to the PS 176 after-school program in 2015 when we produced Live, Laugh, Love, Cry! Lindamichellebaron’s poetry, as some of our students including Eric Normil-Mendez taught in the program. “One of the school kids on this show, Noel Boone, is now about to enter high school and has joined us again! The after-school program is managed by Ms. Cheryl Caddle and Community Youth Care Services. Eric, who is now a certified PS teacher at another school in Brooklyn, was ready to help and reconnect with Ms. Caddle to find the children needed for the show. Then Eric joined our cast as Bob Cratchit, and his son who goes on PS 176 joined him too! Then another alumna, Vania St. Louis, now Vania Hope, volunteered to work with the kids on their after-school stages with Eric who traveled from Brooklyn each day. And Vania volunteered to play Mrs. Cratchit as well.
Professor Marion wrote two songs for the play, and his colleague in the department, Professor Mark Adams “recorded the rhythms of the piano music for both songs. One is sung by eight-year-old Chloe Callender and the finale sung by the entire cast.
“Like I said, it was another one of those miracles that made this show possible,” he said.
Details about the show, including ticket purchase and dates / times, are available at www.york.cuny.edu/scrooge. Please support the production, stars and York College