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Syracuse high school students learn life lessons performing in Redhouse's 'Dreamgirls'

Redhouse Arts Center
"Dreamgirls" at the Redhouse Arts Center

For the last five years, the Redhouse Arts Center has partnered with a Syracuse nonprofit to expose high school students to theatrical productions with professional actors. Students are using the lessons they learn from being in "Dreamgirls" this season and applying them to the real world.

In the musical “Dreamgirls,” a female singing group from Chicago in the 1960s tries to make it big. The story is modeled after real-life R&B groups like The Supremes. Joan Anderson lives in Brooklyn and came to Syracuse to play Lorel Robinson, the youngest and most bright-eyed member of the group.

“It’s three young ladies who have a dream and they go on a journey to obtain it," Anderson said.

The students are on their own journeys. They attend schools in the Syracuse City School District and get the Redhouse experience through the Hillside Agency, which offers cradle-to-career services in youth development. Anderson said it has been a great experience watching the students grow.

“A lot of the things you learn as an actor you can take in your life, whatever your dreams and aspirations are," Anderson said. "I was talking to one of the young ladies, she’s a senior now and she wants to do something completely opposite from the theater. But she can still take the discipline and the focus and all those things you have to do to put on a production and take them into her chosen career path.”

For example, 16-year-old Naomi Grant wants to be a nurse but still do acting on the side.

“I go to school and then I go to work and from work I walk here everyday,” Grant said.

Eighteen-year-old Sapphire Martin wants to be a cosmetologist and own a salon.         

“To me, this show means to not be so selfish, don’t worry about just yourself, worry about other things," Martin said. "Don’t take yourself away from something you might be good at.”

Of course some of the students find it harder to get rid of the acting bug like seventeen-year-old Noa Ford.

“I’ve been acting since I’ve been five, so it’s always been in my life so I would love to continue to do it and make a career out of it because it’s what I love to do and most passionate about,” Ford said.

A feeling shared by 17-year-old Jhalen Ryan.

“I can see myself like Jhalen Ryan on the billboard," Ryan said. "Come see Jhalen Ryan. I’m very passionate about this and I see this as a life goal."

After college, Ryan wants to move to New York City and audition on Broadway. His cast mates from Hillside encourage him.

“Shoot for your dreams, if you see yourself on that stage, go for it,” Martin said.

"Dreamgirls" runs at the Redhouse through December 19th.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.