Beck Center partnership brings unique benefits for Music Theatre students

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Marking the ninth collaboration between Baldwin Wallace and Lakewood’s Beck Center for the Arts, members of the BW Music Theatre program will take part in the Ohio premiere of Kander and Ebb’s “The Scottsboro Boys.”

Baldwin Wallace’s association with the Beck Center, a professional regional theatre company, offers the actors unique opportunities that differ from a typical BW-mounted production, according to Chicago-based visiting director and choreographer Jon Martinez.

“There’s so many logistical things that go into a professional career, and not just getting the job and going on stage and learning your lines,” said Martinez. “This collaboration offers students the opportunity to dip their toes in the professional waters.”

The run at the Beck Center will help prepare the actors to navigate aspects of a professional theatrical run that they may not experience on campus, said Martinez.

Martinez pointed out that actors will encounter “the same amount of press, the reviews, the production, the photos that are taken in the theater.”

“So they get the full experience of what that’s like,” he said.

Senior Marcus Martin, who plays Andy Wright (a role originated on Broadway by Derrick Cobey, BW ’01), says that collaboration with professional theatre companies is not commonly found at many other colleges or universities.

“It’s a special chance to get regional and professional credits on your resume that were given to you by your school,” said Martin. “It’s not very common.”

“Scottsboro” is the last collaboration between the legendary Broadway songwriting team and tells the true story of nine African American men aged 13-20 who were falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama in 1931. The musical follows these men and boys as they struggle to overcome barriers provided by a racist justice system to prove their innocence in court and chronicles the national outrage their case ignited. The cast of 13 characters is made up entirely of African American actors, save for one character. For Martin, the opportunity to take part in production focused on and starring people of color is “absolutely incredible.”

“The fact that we have enough people in our program on this campus to do this show in and of itself is just absolutely incredible and amazing,” Martin said. “I’ve enjoyed all of my performances here, but getting to tell our story, with a cast of people that look like me and share similar experiences, that’s special.”

Martin sees this production as an opportunity to tell a remarkable historical story that many will be experiencing for the first time.

“I’m excited to tell this story because it’s an under-told story,” said Martin. “Unfortunately, black history kind of gets simplified down to three-and-a-half weeks where we talk about Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, and that’s it. I’m excited to bring the story to people because it deserves to be heard.”

According to Martin, he found many parallels between the story of the Scottsboro Boys and other instances of systemic racism found in America’s past and recent history.

“You will see a lot of things that will surprise you as far as history repeating itself, unfortunately,” he said. “You see a cycle; I mean the Scottsboro Boys were the Central Park Five before the Central Park Five. [You] see how the Central Park Five connects to Trayvon Martin and how that connects to Tamir Rice and how that connects to every single scenario.”

“Scottsboro” is set within the frameworks of a minstrel show, an early 19th-century American form of theatre in which actors — typically white performers appearing in blackface — played up racial stereotypes to comic effect in skits, songs, and dance performances. This element of the musical’s staging led to some controversy during its original Broadway run in 2010, with some labeling its use of minstrelsy as racist.

Martinez, making his return to BW after directing last year’s “Be More Chill” at Playhouse Square, is undaunted by what he characterized as unfair assumptions about the show.

“There were a lot of protests because people just read ‘minstrel show,’ they didn’t really understand the structure of it,” Martinez said. “And they also didn’t understand that Kander and Ebb wrote it, so it makes sense to anyone who knows musical theater that they would take one of the oldest American art forms and use it to hold up a mirror to American society.”

Both Martin and Martinez communicated an expectation that their production may make audiences confront parts of the American culture’s deficiencies in ways that might be uncomfortable for some. Still, according to Martin, that discomfort is an essential part of telling this story.

“It’s definitely going to be uncomfortable, but sometimes uncomfortable conversations are necessary,” said Martin. “Coming to terms with uncomfortable parts of our history is necessary. Turning a blind eye to real history for the sake of feeling comfortable would be ignorant.”

Martinez expressed similar sentiments, suggesting that while a darkly toned period piece, “The Scottsboro Boys” reveals timely truths about issues America is still wrestling with today.

Said Martinez: “The show pulls back the curtain, so to speak, of a problem we still have in the world.”

“The Scottboro Boys” runs from Feb. 7 to Feb. 23. Tickets can be purchased by visiting bwmt.bw.edu.