June 10, 2024

Free theater workshops coming from Naptown African American Theatre Collective

The Naptown African American Theatre Collective will launch its free theater workshop program “Education for All” in July. - Provided by NAATC

The Naptown African American Theatre Collective will launch its free theater workshop program “Education for All” in July.

Provided by NAATC

A new opportunity for aspiring artists and theater professionals is coming this summer.

Beginning in July, the Naptown African American Theatre Collective (NAATC) — Indianapolis’ first Black equity theater — is launching its new workshop program Education for All.

The program features six free classes on different areas of theater including costume design, acting, wig design, set design, lighting design and business of show, NAATC founder and CEO LaKesha Lorene said.

“A part of our mission at NAATC is to educate, equip and empower the community through job creation through production jobs and through storytelling,” Lorene said. “This part of the job is our organization jumping into the educational initiatives. It’s all about making sure we can build up the community as we’re growing and doing more professional theater.”

Latrice Young, director of community engagement strategy, said Education for All was part of the initial inception for NAATC and one of the first things she and Lorene spoke about — even before they chose the shows for the collective’s inaugural season.

Young said they listened to the community to see what areas their new equity theater could begin to make a difference and found that wig design was especially important. Both the theater and TV industry struggle with a lack of wig designers and hair stylists who know how to style Black and brown actors, as well as a lack of affordable training.

“We knew there was a demand and a need for it to happen in person because getting that hands-on experience is so different from listening to people talk about it,” Young said. “But you have to show people who you are before they give you the funding or support your mission, and I feel like now that we’re almost through our full inaugural season, people are willing to jump behind us.”

In 2023, the NAATC first began doing these classes via Instagram Live. The collective brought in professionals to demonstrate and teach about acting, directing and the business of theater for free over social media. However, over time, Young said the demand increased — as did their funding — which is why they can now hold the workshops in person.

The first workshop takes place in July and is taught by local fashion and costume designer April Elliott. Elliott, who has worked in the theater industry for the last three years, including being part of the costume design team for the Broadway National tour of “Frozen,” said her workshop aims to show that it is possible for someone like her — who looks like her — to “be present in this space and be able to thrive in this space.”

“I’m hoping that I’m able to ignite some kind of fire within people or get more of them to want to be active in this scene because we do need a lot of help,” Elliott said.

Elliott wants her workshop to be fun, and celebrating people where they are while teaching them new skills will further their dreams of getting hired in these fields. Elliott’s costume design class, which takes place from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Butler University Theater Department Costume Shop, will cover sewing, pattern drafting, textile and fabric selection, manipulation and costume rendering techniques.

For theater professionals who work backstage, understanding unions such as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) is imperative. Elliott said anyone pursuing a career in sewing or design needs to be at least affiliated with the union to even get their foot in the door.

“I didn’t know that we had different types of unions that needed people who knew how to sew and knew the ins and outs of clothes,” Elliott said. “I had no idea until having different conversations with different people … I just want to, hopefully, bridge that gap and show people the skills they would need, the skills these places would look for to get them to be able to have experiences.”

Too often, Black set, costume and lighting designers get passed over for a job simply because they lack the knowledge of how the union works, Lorene added.

“I really want people to see and know and understand there are other professionals like you making it in this industry that are making a living, that are able to do this part time, that are here to encourage you and empower you to get here,” Lorene said. “We’re just trying to demystify what it means to work in the industry especially for Indianapolis and smaller places.”

In August, actor and playwright Austin Dean Ashford — whose one act “Black Book” premiered in Indianapolis as part of the NAATC’s inaugural season in May of 2023 — will host the acting class. It will cover basic monodrama playwriting, acting, directing and producing from 4-6 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays at the Ujamaa Community Bookstore.

Tony Award-winner Nikiya Mathis will teach a two-day intensive wig design class from 1-4 p.m. on Aug. 17 and 2-5 p.m. on Aug. 18 at The Athenaeum. The class will cover the design process for actors of color, hairversations and the history of natural hair, wig prep and design and texture choices.

In September, David Orr will teach the set design class from 6-8 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Sapphire Theatre Company. Orr’s class will cover set design basics, script reading and fabrication basics, as well as set installation and strike.

The courses in October will be taught by Tim Dick and cover lighting design and November will feature workshops on the business of show.

In December, attorney Kayla Hill, Lady L and Kiyaana Cox Jones will teach classes focused on the legal track of show business, such as drafting contracts, bylaws and creating community guidelines and standard procedures for a nonprofit theater.

Ashford’s acting course is open to those fourth grade and above; however, the remaining five courses are all 18+. Each of the Education for All courses is free and held at various locations around the city. Participants can register at naatcinc.org.

Contact Arts & Culture Reporter Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848. Follow her on X @chloe_mcgowanxx

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