Marcus Performing Arts Center wants everyone to come and enjoy the show

By Ana Martinez-Ortiz

When someone hears the word violin, their first thought is probably classical music, but the music group Black Violin takes that idea to heart. The duo consists of two classically trained musicians known as Kev Marcus and Wil B. Their style is a combination of classical and hip-hop music.

Earlier this week, students from around Milwaukee had the opportunity to see Black Violin perform as part of the Marcus Performing Arts Centers Student Matinee Series.

For some students, it was an opportunity to see musicians who looked like them perform on stage and for all, it was an opportunity to reconcile the notion of what classical music is and what musicians look like. classically trained.

Black Violin is just one of the many artists making up this season’s lineup. Other performances include Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hiplet Ballerinas and more.

The programming is part of the center’s commitment to racial equity, diversity and inclusion or REDI initiatives.

Anthony Smith is the Director of Community Engagement and Inclusion. He has worked at the Marcus Performing Arts Center for just over three years.

Smith explained that inclusion means being invited to the party and being asked to dance or participate as well.

He noted that in the past, the community’s perception of the Marcus Performing Arts Center may have impacted their desire to engage with the center. Many felt it was not the place for them, he said, and since then the center has worked to make the place more inclusive and welcoming not only to members of the public, but also for artists.

“The artists we select should reflect the diversity of our country as well as our communities,” he said.

Part of the center’s efforts include a new series of cultural programs focusing on jazz, dance and “National Geographic LIVE.”

The series debuted at the start of the 2021-2022 season and featured well-known jazz artists Dianne Reeves and Terrence Blanchard, to name a few. Upcoming performers include the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company, a Broadway performance of “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations” and a tribute to Aretha Franklin.

“We’re old school, we’re introducing new school, we’re bringing hip-hop to the charts, we’re bringing jazz to our stages, we’ve got black and brown artists on stage, we’re doing a lot,” said Smith “Performing arts centers are not for one audience, but for all audiences.”

Milwaukee has so many cultures, Smith said, it all depends on which block you’re standing on. Through its REDI initiative, the Marcus Performing Arts Center strives to show that no matter what part of town a person comes from, art transcends these divisions.

“It doesn’t matter where you live, we just want you to come here and enjoy and experience what we have to offer,” he said.

Smith acknowledged that there are certain barriers that prevent people from attending shows such as transportation. Others don’t like coming downtown because they don’t feel wanted, he said.

The center is working to establish partnerships with groups that will facilitate transportation to the center. And making everyone feel more welcome in the space is the overarching goal of its REDI initiatives.

Through the center’s educational efforts, such as the student matinee series, it hopes to engage students and, by extension, their families.

These educational opportunities include post-show interviews with the artists and masterclasses for youth and adults. Masterclasses cover a range of topics from dance and monologues and compositions to behind-the-scenes work such as lighting, sound and props.

“There are so many jobs available behind the house,” Smith said. “And there is a longer life behind the house.”

He added that he also offers masterclasses to schools to facilitate student participation.

“We’re providing it and there’s a hunger for it and we want to provide it to these students,” Smith said, referring to when the students took a Milwaukee County Transit System bus to attend a “Hamilton “.

Next week, the center will offer a dance masterclass alongside Amalia Hernández’s Ballet Folklórico de México. There will be an adult master class at 1 p.m. and a children’s master class at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 10. Having classes for multiple age groups is part of inclusion, Smith said.

Master class programs for young people include free tickets for their families and free packed lunches.

Additionally, the center’s KidZ Days programs bring the performances to the community through partnerships with Neighborhood House, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee and more. Performing artists travel to venues to provide entertainment and education, Smith said.

There’s a lot of work involved in planning these events, Smith said, but seeing the faces of individuals once they’ve experienced the spectacle is worth it. The Marcus Performing Arts Center will announce next season’s lineup at the end of March, and Smith looks forward to meeting the goals he has set for upcoming shows.

“As we achieve these goals, I know they will adapt to our audience,” Smith said. “And when I say public, I mean everyone in the community. We want to be the performing arts center for everyone.