Arts & Culture

One Line Wonders Empower DaVerse Readers and Receivers

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

In a word: empowerment.

Yes, yes, that word usually describes the DaVerse Lounge experience, whether you’re reading on the stage or receiving in the audience. But this one, this DaVerse Lounge event Friday, Nov. 11, at Life in Deep Ellum, was especially empowering.

We had homeschooled sisters, college students, middle school dreamers, a recent high school graduate and a local hip-hop artist, among many others, pouring their emotions onto a receptive, loving crowd of 500.

So we thought we’d reminisce the evening with a baker’s dozen One Line Wonders, just to remind us how powerful sharing our thoughts and feelings can truly be.

“I hate you, my number eight”
— A lament about moving, and the uncertainty that comes with instability.
Anna, Quintanilla Middle School

“You said you hated me; I said I needed you”
— Standing up against abuse, from love to politics, emotions to physicality.
Cici, Garza High School

“All I hear is black lives this, black lives that, but we all can’t seem to come together to prove that all lives matter”
— Looking in the mirror of humanity.
Danejah, Lancaster Middle School

“I see my life as just a joke; my emotions are an endless spoke”
— Life as seen through the lens of an adolescent.
Francisco, O.W. Holmes Middle School

“When the monster was in the closet, not the closet itself”
— An ode to a best friend, and to life.
Amanda, North Lake College

“Words are mankind’s currency; they can tear you down and build you up”
— Judge people by what they say, and nothing else.
Sisters Haley and Hana, homeschooled

“My body has scars; not from fights, but from life”
— The generational pain that forces you to be strong against obstacles.
John, high school graduate

“She was a beautiful 15-year-old girl who killed herself because of bullying and depression”
— The devastating aftermath of a tragic suicide.
Serenity, Wilmer-Hutchins High School

“I want to get high to see if I can finally get you off my mind”
— Anger from a woman scorned.
Riley, Winfree Academy

“You still got your people; we are all we got – apparently”
— The state of the country and the world today.
So So Topic (AKA Tommy Simpson), local hip-hop artist

“You’re too pretty not to smile, as if me not having a smile on my face at all times is a sin”
— A manifesto against the misogynistic world we live in
Tasa, Winfree Academy

“I made some bad choices and I heard some bad voices, but thou cannot heal when thou cannot feel”
— Changing your life around through faith before it’s too late.
Dequiris, Sam Houston High School

“I keep gagging at the memory of everything that happened”
— A cathartic note to an ex-lover.
Michael, Sam Houston High School

DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, State Farm, Liberty Burger, and the M.R. & Evelyn Hudson Foundation for their generous support.

Photos by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio

 

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DaVerse Lounge Covets Six Word Stories

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

What’s your story in six words?

Is it a heartbreaking, painful tale? Or is it love and light? Maybe you share something clever, funny. Perhaps it’s exercise for your creativity.

Share your six word story soonest. DaVerse Lounge is the event Friday. Life In Deep Ellum, the venue. We’re ready to receive your tale.

First, read six word stories history:

The inspirational genesis of the six word stories movement comes from Ernest Hemingway’s famous short but potent 1920s narrative – “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Six word stories would later become known as flash fiction. For decades this extremely succinct piece of prose has been testing writers’ abilities to craft mini masterpieces for receiving readers.

Jump to 2012 and the six word stories phenomenon picked up steam on Reddit, then lit the Tumblr constituency a mere two years later. The rules of six word stories are pretty basic – write six words. That’s it. You can be as creative, ingenious, heartfelt or funny as you like, but it must only be six words.

And now, back to six words. Six word stories table is ready. See space between henna, artist stations. DaVerse Lounge will provide pen, paper. We want your bold, honest expression. Stories are shared on social media. Or tag #SixWordStories_Daverse and we’ll repost.

What’s your story in six words?

DaVerse Lounge’s 12th season continues Friday, Nov. 11th from 7-10 pm at Life in Deep Ellum. DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, and State Farm for their generous support.

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Rachel Dupard Found Her Voice With TBAAL, Big Thought

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

From adversity to triumph: Rachel Dupard is living proof. The 21-year-old native of Duncanville now calls Santa Fe home. She’s a first semester senior at Santa Fe University of Art and Design as a Contemporary Music major. Dupard is a singer whose inner voice broke through a childhood hearing dysfunction.

Her formative years in North Texas were impactful and revelatory, with more than a fair share of struggles, for the young lady born with fluid in her inner ear that complicated her hearing. Before she was in kindergarten, Dupard had already endured several surgeries and began three years of comprehensive speech therapy.

But Dupard remembers the support of loving parents and the joy of singing. She remembers the heavenly noise of singing with her church and elementary school choirs. She remembers the impact Big Thought partner The Black Academy of Arts and Letters made in her journey via five years of rigorous summer programs and three years of master classes.

“The performances during the summer programs at TBAAL gave her the confidence to be onstage and not be intimated, almost like she was on Broadway,” says LaChanda Dupard, Rachel’s mother. “That led to her audition to get into Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and then college auditions. She walked into those auditions with a confidence level built by those years at TBAAL.”

Dupard looks back on her 21 years philosophically: “My life has been aligned like dominoes,” she says by phone from Santa Fe. “I am excited about what is next in my life.”

TBAAL helped reinforce the foundation for Dupard’s singing dreams. She was in that potentially awkward teenage cusp during her first summer performance camp at TBAAL, a longtime Big Thought partner. It was 2008, and little did Dupard know how invaluable that experience would be. In fact, three years later Dupard was honored with TBAAL’s Curtis King Performing Arts Award.

“I had the best time,” she says. “They taught me how to tap into emotions, how to tell a story, your story. That is essential to being an artist. It really helped change me and helped me be the artist that I am today. “

Dupard has studied classical through childhood private voice lessons, as well as gospel, R&B, and now jazz. She’s keenly aware of her talents, while at the same time accepting of the fact that her hearing history forces her to work harder to keep pace with classmates.

“I still have to focus a little bit more,” she says. “I still have to realize that I don’t learn as fast as my other colleagues.”

But the passion burns, and Dupard has no regrets. She’s exactly where she needs to be thanks to parents, mentors and instructors that encouraged her to reach deep inside and nurture her gift. Adversity led to triumph.

“My whole life has been an adventure so far and I’m so excited about it,” she says. “It’s been a lot of trials but at the same time it’s been enjoyable. College is setting me up perfectly for the real world of music. It has helped me deal with different people. I grew up in a very loving environment with my mom and dad. They taught me how to love people. I can’t wait to see how life turns out for me.”

 

 

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Chelsea Mayo in New York: An Amazing Experience

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Chelsea Mayo walks through midtown Manhattan like a teen on a mission. She takes in the sensory overload of the Big Apple with characteristic finesse. This 18-year-old is equal parts ingénue and sophisticate.

Chelsea won the Dallas portion of the National Endowment for the Arts’ inaugural Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for High School Students, which was managed locally by Big Thought. She and her travel companion, dad Michael Mayo, hit New York City by storm July 22-25 for the final competition. The top prize was a $5,000 scholarship, with each national runner-up receiving $2,500 scholarships. Chelsea competed with Angel Rodriguez of Seattle and Jake Berglove of Minneapolis.

Scholarships came courtesy of the National Music Publishers’ Association Supporting Our Next Generation of Songwriters (S.O.N.G.S.) Foundation. Sony/ATV published the national winner’s song.

For Chelsea, the prize was really the events leading up to the big announcement. As we walked over to the legendary Sardi’s in Times Square for a get-to-know-everybody dinner, Chelsea marveled at the energy of the world-renowned city.

“New York was really inspiring to me because it felt so electric,” she says. “Just being there made me feel like I was a part of something special. I loved the way I could walk around and recognize places from movies and album covers. It was surreal! I think that New York is unlike any other place in the world because it has so much history and I’m really grateful to have gotten to experience some of it.”

Experience is an understatement. Chelsea met John Doyle, the Tony Award-winning director of The Color Purple, which we all saw Saturday evening at the Bernard K. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway. Doyle spoke to all of the finalists, chaperones and partner representatives about the theater, offering invaluable advice stemming from a career spanning over 40 years.

She also worked closely with songwriter Anna K. Jacobs and pianist/musical director Lynne Shankel. Jacobs and Shankel took Chelsea’s song “Say Goodbye,” a moving manifesto about a woman who feels lost in a consuming relationship that has erased her true identity, and gave it a facelift. Jacobs offered Chelsea advice on how to tweak the lyrics for greater impact, suggesting a bigger build up to the chorus and strategic pulling back to reach the grand finale.

Mayo wrote the song after struggling to pursue her musical aspirations even when her friends and family felt disappointed by her career decision.

“She has such a distinct voice as a songwriter,” says Jacobs about Chelsea. “We talked about where she was coming from emotionally when she was writing the song. I loved the depth she put into it. She put herself into the song. She was able to take her own personal life experience to come up with the musical theater story. That is what a true artist does.”

Chelsea spent much of the day Sunday rehearsing with professional musicians and singers. Shankel played piano, and Bonnie Milligan sang “Say Goodbye.” Chelsea introduced her song before a panel of judges that featured singer-actor Norm Lewis, songwriter Adam Gwon, singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, Sony/ATV Director of Theatrical Development George Maloian, and Charlotte Sellmyer from the National Music Publishers Association.

“I feel like I’ve won already because I have had so many rewarding experiences and learned so much from professional musicians,” says Chelsea, minutes before the competition began. “I’ve worked with a band and mentors that have given me hope in the music business. I feel like I’ve made connections with all of them and I feel like I’ve learned so much already. Really, I’ve won already.”

Milligan performed “Say Goodbye” with heart and soul, dipping and soaring in all the right places to convey the deep emotions of the song.

Chelsea’s dad Michael Mayo sat in the audience, listening intently to his daughter’s composition.

“I’m genuinely proud of her,” he says. “I’m happy with the way the song turned out. It really sounds musical theater to me. I’m so proud of the way she interacted with people, very genuine, personable. She left an impression of herself with people. She has contacts now and they like her. As long as she puts in the work, she’ll be fine.”

In the end, Chelsea Mayo was named a runner-up taking home a $2,500 scholarship. Angel Rodriguez of Seattle claimed the grand prize with his potent tune, “Bleeding.”

Chelsea didn’t bat an eye. She was elated. She was beaming.

“I feel good,” she says. “I feel like I’m going home with priceless information. This has been such an amazing experience.”

Big Thought thanks the National Endowment for the Arts, Playbill, Inc., Disney Theatrical Group, National Music Publishers’ Association Supporting Our Next Generation of Songwriters (S.O.N.G.S.) Foundation, and Sony/ATV for their generous support.

Pictured: Chelsea Mayo, center, with Anna K. Jacobs (left) and Lynne Shankel at Carroll Studios in New York City. Photo by Mario Tarradell/Big Thought.

 

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Tiana Johnson and Jeffery Moffitt Make Creative Solutions Dreams Realities

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Tiana Johnson and Jeffery Moffitt are pressed for time. Rehearsals begin momentarily for The Island of Lost Souls, the 2016 culminating performance for students of Big Thought’s Creative Solutions summer program at Southern Methodist University. So Johnson and Moffitt, the artistic force behind this year’s stage musical, have just a few minutes to chat.

Their passion, however, is timeless. This is Johnson’s second year as choreographer, a role perfectly suited for a talented actress and dancer who recently completed a month-plus run as an ensemble cast member of Dallas Theater Center’s production of Dreamgirls. SMU is home turf for this recent graduate who completed her Master of Fine Arts in theatre this past spring.

Moffitt’s Creative Solutions history dates to 2009 when as an SMU freshman he served as assistant scene designer. He was scene designer from 2010-2013 and became artistic director in 2015. Moffitt earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre during spring 2013. He also has a Bachelor of Arts in English.

Together they drive the always-anticipated Creative Solutions culminating performance, the crowning achievement that caps seven weeks of work with teen students on probation after being convicted of a crime. Since 1994 Creative Solutions has been giving second chances to teen probates by teaching them life skills through performing and visual arts.

“Because they have had so many walls placed in front of them, they don’t realize they have a voice worth being heard that needs to be heard,” says Moffitt. “So when they realize that they do have a voice among their peers and community members, they take that realization with them into the world. Knowing you have a voice worth being heard makes you walk into the world differently. They have been silenced so long that this program is about them finding their voice, breaking that silence. To be a productive citizen you need to understand that you have a voice. Society improves when we all share our voices and our stories.”

The students are doing just that during The Island of Lost Souls, the Creative Solutions original musical that premieres Thursday, July 28, at 1 pm at the Greer Garson Theatre inside SMU’s Owen Arts Center, which is part of the Meadows School of the Arts. Subsequent Island performances are at 7 pm July 28 and 1 pm July 29.

The Island of Lost Souls tells the story of three kids who journey into an unknown adventure to rescue their friend Freddy who has disappeared into the mysterious “island.” But when it comes time for all the kids to return to the “land of the living,” Freddy must make his choice: Stay on the island or return to earth and face his problems.

The new musical serves as a companion piece for last year’s Club Generation, which dealt with the topical subject of police overuse of lethal force. The Island of Lost Souls takes that issue into bigger picture territory and presents a story the addresses the divide between kids and adults fueled by stereotypes. Adults don’t believe kids solely because they see them in a certain light, because they can’t identify with them.

It’s all about validation. The idea that I exist and you can’t silence me just because you have some preconceived notion of me. Validation is paramount for Creative Solutions, and Johnson sees it regularly while working with the students.

“It’s important even before the culminating performance,” says Johnson, the former Miss South Dallas who is part of Dallas Theater Center’s resident acting company for 2016-2017.

“When the program starts we find out what everyone else wants to do, even that is already validation. It’s important to have balance, to make them work hard so that the validation is deserved at the end for the work they have done. We keep a record of what they do well and what they need to work on so knowing what they do well validates them. We give them job skills. The applause is that big bow-wrapped gift as validation at the end of the performance.”

There is a complete transformation during those seven weeks, a transformation that manifests itself in that culminating performance. The students are fortified by artistic skills (music, acting, drumming, dancing, writing, singing), life skills, job skills, story sessions, brainstorming ideas, open expression, script work, choreographing, and stage blocking. Johnson, who received rave reviews for her performance in DTC’s The Mountaintop last year, sees the very unvarnished side of that metamorphosis.

“Sometimes you can see a lot of fear,” says Johnson. “Fear is a very human thing when you are stepping up to the plate to do something you have never done. I’m afraid but I’m going to go forth and do this. The joy and confidence that comes out of that is amazing to see. Building community, working as a unit, and that every piece of the puzzle matters. I help you. You help me. We are all a part of this bigger idea. They see a bigger picture and they see how they fit into it. Understanding my world as a human being in life, how I influence the movement.”

For Moffitt and Johnson, watching dreams materialize in disenfranchised students that never thought they’d have the voice to make their innermost wishes come through, much less the wherewithal, is an immensely rewarding experience.

“I want to see these kids realize their potential,” says Moffitt. “Just because they came from this neighborhood doesn’t mean they have to turn out this way. I love hearing their stories when they are speaking on stage in front of hundreds of people. I love being in a room with people from different backgrounds, communities. Their stories excite me.”

Johnson sees a little bit of herself in these students. She sees the passionate desire to be creative. She sees their raw need to live the dream.

“These are people who don’t understand the potential that they have, or they do see the potential but the circumstances don’t allow that potential to grow,” says Johnson. “I can see myself in that. I am living my dream, so I know that it is possible. It’s isn’t an abstract idea. It isn’t unattainable. I can look at someone and see that it is possible.”

Big Thought’s Creative Solutions thanks the Dallas County Juvenile Department, Dallas County Juror’s Fund, Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts, Anonymous, ExxonMobil, Mr. and Mrs. David Chortek, Ms. Serena Simmons Connelly, Mr. Tom Connelly, Elizabeth Toon Charities, Hillcrest Foundation, Sammons Enterprises, Inc., The M.R. & Evelyn Hudson Foundation, Mr. Jay Judas, Texas Bar Foundation, The Junior League of Dallas, Katherine C. Carmody Charitable Trust, Ms. Eliza Solender, TurningPoint Foundation, Texas Commission on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, and The Ellen Wood Fund for their generous support.

 

 

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Kayla Gilchrist Walked a Fateful Path to Creative Solutions

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Kayla Gilchrist walked a path that led her to Big Thought’s Creative Solutions. But at first, she had no idea this is where she was headed.

The 21-year-old from Keller, Texas, a soon-to-be-senior at Prairie View A&M University, is an ExxonMobil Community Summer Jobs Program Intern with Creative Solutions, a respected program that teaches performing and visual arts to juveniles convicted of a crime. Gilchrist initially wanted to intern at the South Dallas Cultural Center, but there were no openings. Harold Steward, manager of South Dallas Cultural Center, led her to the ExxonMobil Community Summer Jobs Program website. It was there that she found Big Thought’s Creative Solutions.

Gilchrist, majoring in mass communications with a minor in theater arts, felt Creative Solutions was a perfect fit, since her passion is theater, particularly acting with some singing and dancing. She has performed in middle school, high school, college, and community theater productions.

“This is why I jumped at the chance to come to Big Thought,” says Gilchrist, “because they are teaching these kids through the performing and visual arts.”

Her job centers on Creative Solutions’ Summer Program at Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts. Gilchrist is part of the CS administrative staff. She supervises files for 60-80 students, takes attendance, puts together paperwork for Big Thought contractors including the Dallas County Juvenile Department, participates in sessions, and mentors students in performing arts. Yet perhaps most importantly, Gilchrist lends a sympathetic ear for kids who need to talk. She gives them support.

Gilchrist took a break from her Creative Solutions duties at SMU to talk about a job experience she says she will never forget.

How do you feel during those sessions with the kids?
“I feel this work is extremely important; stuff like this changes their life. They like to talk, it makes them feel better. One of them said that me and [Creative Solutions teaching artist] Alejandro Perez, Jr. are the people that make them smile. This program gives them something to do; it keeps them out of trouble. This is giving back to the community. It’s awesome watching them discover their hidden talents.”

What does art mean to you, especially in relation to Creative Solutions?
“I always knew that art could be impactful, but now I see that art can change anybody. They are just normal kids and coming here and finding this art and finding their hidden talent is really enlightening. Creative Solutions gives me a different perspective on inner city youth. It really changed my perspective.”

How crucial is the Creative Solutions safe haven for these kids?
“Sometimes they feel safer and better here than at home. For many of them there is no comfort and freedom to make art at home. Here they have it. They open up. They can be themselves. They realize, ‘I’m good at something.’”

How did you find your own talent?
“When I was just starting out I was dabbling. It wasn’t really until my theater arts teacher and my parents believed I could do it that I truly realized it. They gave me validation, and sometimes all you need is someone to believe in you in order for you to believe in yourself.”

Do you feel like you were meant to work with these kids, to be part of Creative Solutions?
“I feel like I am a role model for these kids. To whom much is given, much is required. I feel like I was led here for a reason. If I ever write about my life, I will definitely write about this experience.”

Big Thought thanks the following donors for their generous support of Creative Solutions: Dallas County Juvenile Department, Dallas County Juror’s Fund, Anonymous, Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts, ExxonMobil Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. David Chortek, Ms. Serena Simmons Connelly, Mr. Tom Connelly, Elizabeth Toon Charities, Hillcrest Foundation, The M.R. & Evelyn Hudson Foundation, Mr. Jay Judas, Texas Bar Foundation, The Junior League of Dallas, TurningPoint Foundation, Katherine C. Carmody Charitable Trust, Ms. Eliza Solender, Texas Commission on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, and The Ellen Wood Fund.

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