As Anyae Anasia, a musical theatre senior, finishes off her last semester at Texas State, she is leaving her legacy within the Department of Theatre and Dance. With the determination to promote Black artistry at Texas State, Anasia will direct and produce the first annual "Young, Gifted & Black: A Black History Month Celebration."
"Young, Gifted & Black: A Black History Month Celebration" will entail an evening of performances including songs, monologues and scenes directed, produced and performed by over 30 Black Texas State artists in the Department of Theatre and Dance. The event is at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 26 at the Performing Arts Center Recital Hall.
Anasia has high hopes for a successful turnout because of her commitment to her goals.
“My goals are to produce, direct and perform in work that tells the stories of Black voices that are seldom heard and to uplift the Black community in doing so,” Anasia said. “I believe that this is my first step into this direction.”
Anasia had the idea for the show in the fall of 2020, her sophomore year, but could not fully commit to creating it with her busy schedule. Finally, Anasia began reaching out to Black faculty and artists in the acting and musical theatre department over the summer of 2022. Soon after, they began having monthly planned meetings along with collaborating with Take 5, a student networking community for BIPOC, Latinx and ally creators at Texas State.
The show is dedicated to Shirley Harris, the first Black student to graduate from Texas State, then Southwest Texas State, in 1967. After Harris received her bachelor’s degree in education, she taught at elementary schools for 40 years in San Antonio. To acknowledge Harris’ teaching career, a scholarship will be awarded at the show to a deserving Black student pursuing a degree in education.
Kaitlin Hopkins, the faculty advisor for "Young, Gifted & Black" and the head of the musical theater program, had the idea to dedicate the show to Harris and create the first-ever scholarship in her name. Hopkins is honored to be the faculty advisor for the show and feels that Anasia's courage will take her far.
“When you take on a leadership position and a creative producing directing position there’s no guarantee you’re going to succeed at it,” Hopkins said. “She’s putting herself out there with her peers and asking people to give up their time and their talent and their energies to help acknowledge the work of Black theater artists and musicians and I admire that. I think that she’s going to have an extraordinary future and really make a difference in our industry because she’s not afraid.”
Anasia also has the goal to motivate students to keep going with their education and she believes the show’s dedication to Harris will be a great way to implement this.
“I’m not entirely sure if there are students like this, but I’m sure that there are that they may be questioning whether or not they want to be in college, and maybe seeing that this woman went and graduated from Texas State for the rest of our kind would be very encouraging, especially at an event like this,” Anasia said. “Seeing how it has like basically affected all of us and opened the gates for all of us to kind of go to school here.”
Anasia has been holding rehearsals since the beginning of fall 2022 to ensure that the show is a hit. Students involved in the production like Savanah Downing, a performance and production senior, have been given a glimpse into a community that they did not know existed.
“I remember the first time I walked into one of the rehearsals for the showcase and I was just like ‘I didn’t even know y’all were here!’ Like I didn’t even know some of the Black people that went to this school were in this program,” Downing said. “Just being able to make my knowledge of other Black creators that are in this program was just automatically a plus.”
Downing's inspiration to join the performing arts world began when she performed in church when she was younger. With a love for being in front of an audience and speaking, Downing found her place in the Department of Theatre and Dance. Now, Downing looks forward to performing "Too Beautiful for Words" from the film "The Color Purple" at the show.
Although Downing has always had a love for the performing arts industry, she feels as though the Black community has always been overlooked and not given an equal opportunity to display their talents. She and Tyler Wesley, a musical theatre sophomore, hope that "Young, Gifted & Black" will bring more attention to Black artists within the performing arts industry.
Wesley is grateful for the opportunity that he has been given to perform "Make Them Hear You" from the musical "Ragtime," and he hopes that it encourages young Black artists to tell their own stories.
“Underrepresented does not mean underqualified,” Wesley said. “Being a performer, there’s a stigma that the people putting on the production hold the power and so you try to punch up toward that — you try to meet it, but just having this reminds us that we have everything within us to create. You have everything that you need to be a thriving artist and just do that. You are interesting, you are beautiful, your story is beautiful, so go tell it.”
Anasia hopes the show can go on after she graduates, but she knows that it will take a lot of work and commitment to make "Young, Gifted & Black" an annual production. Even if this is the only time the show gets put on, Anasia would like to see other performances that celebrate Black culture in the future.
All in all, Anasia, Downing, Wesley and Hopkins hope to pave a way for a new tradition for Black History Month and create a safe space for Black artists at Texas State.
“We’re not doing this just because want to tell whatever story we want to tell and whatever thing that we want to do, but because it’s for the Black community and we’re trying to tell these stories for the Black community to celebrate Black artistry and Black people,” Anasia said.
For tickets and more information, visit https://txstatepresents.universitytickets.com/w/event.aspx?id=3622&p=1.
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