ATLANTIC CITY — How pleased and excited I was to get a chance to see the Atlantic City Theatre Guild’s August Wilson series after missing it back in February!
First of all, I didn’t even know there was an Atlantic City Theatre Guild (ACTG) and second of all, I found out that we have some really great African-American actors here.
I was fully satisfied by the end of their recent performances at Wash’s Inn in Pleasantville, vignettes from all 10 of the late August Wilson's plays!
Partially a fundraiser for the Children’s Cultural Arts Foundation, Inc., which exposes local children to arts of all kinds at no costs to the children, a portion of the proceeds from the August Wilson series also went to benefit ACTG.
Michael Bailey, the founding director, gave me a brief history of ACTG. The guild began in 1998 with his Black History Month play called Another Chance, but the play became so long that he had to ask for more time at the Atlantic City PAL recreation center.
In short, he’s been doing it ever since.
ACTG does not teach acting per se, but it does cultivate actors’ skills once they are selected for a performance. Bailey partnered with Arnell Lyles, the other ACTG director, 10 or 12 years ago when she started Paw Prints, which teaches drama, music and dance to children ages four and up.
Bailey and Lyles gave their own great performances in excerpts from Jitney and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Lyles also introduced each vignette during the three-hour afternoon of entertainment at Wash’s.
You’d think that was a long time to watch theatre performances, but the stories were so interesting and the acting so engaging that time passed quickly.
Wilson's plays span decades from the early 1900s to the 1990s and focus largely on the lives, struggles and interrelationships of black men in Pittsburgh, Pa., where Wilson grew up.
Winner of two Pulitzers, he died in 2005. It was a real treat to have samplings of his works acted out at Wash’s, where audience members could buy Wash’s famous fried chicken wings and other soul-food fare during intermission.
Many of ACTG’s actors are mature adults and seasoned professionals, but there are some, like Sparkle (real name) Prevard, who are just starting out.
“I’m the youngest one here," Sparkle told me. "I’m only in the 9th grade at Atlantic City High School, but I love my theatre arts class. That’s why I auditioned.”
Eric Phillips began acting at three and is now 15; he plans to attend Rutgers one day and demonstrates a promising future on stage already. Breon Douglass, 18, is a performing arts major at Atlantic-Cape Community College and Betsy Aviles, 24, has been pursuing her acting career since she graduated from Charter Tech (Somers Point) almost seven years ago. Tyrell Lewis has been acting for five years and is now a professional who works with Paw Prints.
Arnell Lyles, a recent honors graduate from Atlantic-Cape Community College who will attend Stockton College in the fall, said she started out in the drama club at Chelsea Junior High School back in 1982. After that, she did some acting at Atlantic City High School, then with the Kevin Cheatham Players, Wayne DeShields and Friends and finally ended up with Bailey and the ACTG so did she.
At Stockton, Arnell will be a performing arts major. She says she is devoted to “passing on her acting experience, as well as her college experience by helping young people through the admissions process, because many of their parents don’t know how to get them started.”
Paw Prints will run a summer camp program Mondays through Fridays from 9am to 4pm at the PAL building in Atlantic City. You can call 609-347-5478 for more information.
Turiya S.A. Raheem was born and raised in Atlantic City. Currently an English teacher at Atlantic Cape Community College, she loves to describe her neighborhood as “the other Atlantic City,” because it was not the casino-resort mecca most people know today. It was a place with a “cozy, down-home feeling” as she describes in her 2010 book, Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City: Wash’s and the Northside.
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Patti Harris is not only an Atlantic City legend, she is also a legend in the worlds of dance and performing arts. Spending time with her can be like opening a history book with which you can share the most stimulating conversations. Every performing artist, from dancer to singer to poet, should get the chance to meet and work with Harris and learn from her vast experience and expertise. Thanks to her series the “Incubator for Talented Youth,” any serious performing artist can have the opportunity to meet Harris and some of her amazing friends. Harris began the series 10 years ago at Wash’s Inn in Pleasantville. Since that time, she explains, many of the kids who started out with her at the first Incubator have gone on to work professionally in the world of entertainment. “I’ve seen little kids come the first year and participate, and by the following year they have gotten so much better because they work with the professionals who come out and are inspired by them,” she says. These past few years, Incubator events at Kennedy Plaza have been among the...
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