Broadway artists wowed by Douglas Anderson theater students

Broadway artists wowed by Douglas Anderson theater students
Dewitt Cooper, DA music theater style teacher with Douglas Anderson Foundation Executive Director Jackie Cornelius, Wesley Taylor, Isaac Powell, Douglas Anderson Principal Melanie Hammer and Joe Kemper, head of the Theater Department at Douglas Anderson.

Thanks to funding from the Douglas Anderson Foundation, theater students at DA, the only public high school dedicated to the arts in Jacksonville, were thrilled to have the opportunity to work one-on-one with Broadway actors Wesley Taylor and Issac Powell of New York, who provided two days of intensive workshops at the school Dec. 8 and 9.

Powell is best known for his role as Daniel in the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of “Once on This Island.” Prior to the Broadway shutdown, Powell played Tony in the revival of “West Side Story.”  Up next, he will make his feature film debut in the upcoming “Dear Evan Hansen” movie adaptation.  Meanwhile, Taylor, who made his Broadway debut in the original cast of “Rock of Ages,” is a Theater World Award Winner, Chita Rivera Award Winner, and Outer Critics Circle nominee. He starred opposite Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth in Broadway’s “The Addams Family” and then went on to originate the role of Sheldon Plankton in Broadway’s “Spongebob Squarepants.”

Naturally, the students were excited to have their work critiqued by such heady company, however, the visiting artists were also duly impressed. “We just spent the last two days totally inspired by these kids. There is so much talent here, more talent than I remember having myself at this age. I’m blown away by their precociousness and skill,” said Taylor, noting that some of the students seemed “professional” and ready to move on “to Broadway right now.”

“We’ve done this many times together and I can say hands down that these are the most talented kids I’ve ever taught on a high school level,” he said. 

Powell agreed. “We’re both really bowled over by how driven and talented, flexible, open and authentic the students are here,” he said, “Sometimes at an arts high school they can be hoity-toity, snobbish,” he said as Taylor interrupted to finish his thought – “Yes, they think they are in a special arts school, so they are better than others, but these kids are humble and down to earth.” And both men commented that they were surprised by the DA students’ ability to listen, take notes, and adjust to suggestions. But most of all it was the support the students showed each other that was startling. “They applauded their classmates while they were performing. It was beautiful to watch,” said Taylor. 

Principal Melanie Hammer said having the guest artists at the school was an “amazing” experience for the students. “To be able to watch our students grow and get feedback from the two experts was amazing. They did a monologue and got corrections right away. All the students said they could feel their monologues grow instantly with the help from the two of them.”

Douglas Anderson Foundation Executive Director Jackie Cornelius said bringing guest artists like Taylor and Powell to the school is very important and could not be done without the generosity of several key donors who have faithfully supported DA through the foundation. “Through the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, the foundation has an endowed fund with roughly $4.3 million to support Douglas Anderson’s art programs above what the public school system will fund for it to be successful,” she said, adding that Delores Barr Weaver has created a guest artist fund at the Community Foundation that generates $10,000 to $15,000 a year for this purpose. “Then you have Gary McCalla, and Laurie DuBow. We are fortunate the leaders of our city understood the importance of arts, which really began with making sure this arts school was born, and that was thanks to Ann Baker, Dr. J. Shepard “Shep” Bryan, J.F. Bryan and Helen Lane,” she said. 

“When you go big picture with what really matters and have a top arts school for students, particularly those that wouldn’t have an opportunity in our wonderful city, one of the keys of the foundation is to enable the students to get the best education possible in theater or any of the arts. So, for our students to be able to see what is happening in the real world with professionals is important,” she said. “The more professionals we bring into the school with Melanie and her crew, the better.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)