In its mission statement, Voices United states: “Voices United empowers the youth of Miami to transform hatred into understanding, prejudice into respect, violence into peaceful collaboration, and cynicism into hope.”
That’s a powerful message for an organization with members ranging in ages from six to 18 years old.
Founded in 1989 by Katie Christy when she was 17 years old, Voices United, which has partnered with New World School of the Arts, has grown to encompass as many as 120 children a year putting on plays to educate their peers.
Christy, 37, who describes herself as multi-ethnic, said she started the organization because she knew about how cruel and unaccepting people can be toward people of color and those of mixed ethnicity, because she experienced it herself.
“This group has a lot to offer the community,” said Christy, a 1989 New World School of the Arts graduate. “They are offering hope and inspiration in these difficult times in this country.”
The basis for Voices United’s latest production is the economic crisis and the inattention of parents.
Lost & Found, which is written by the children who star in and play behind the scenes roles, is about Jenna, who is having a party. Her parents have decided to go away, yet again, leaving her home by herself. To get back at them, she decides to throw a party and invite all of her friends – and then some. While at the party, Jenna’s peers get into trouble and are arrested.
The other issues that are dealt with in this play are: the death of a parent due to the war in Iraq, homosexuality among teens, gang violence, vandalism, suicide, theft and the loss of income due to layoffs.
These are all issues that seem to only affect adults, but in a play written by children, this thought is a contradiction. These kids, whose thoughts should be consumed with school and having fun during their formative years, are worried about how they are going to eat next week and whether or not they can get someone to like them.
That said, the music in this play, which was written by the kids, as well, is awesome. When the kids come together and sing their hearts out, I have to remind myself I’m watching a student production. Their voices and the sound quality of the music played (by teenagers) draws back to why musicals became popular. The music sets a likeable tone for the play.
Speaking of music, the principal singers in this cast of 90 children from 45 different schools are exceptional, and would do well to pursue professional careers in the genre. They are: Jaylon Ballard, Trevon Chambers, and Zoe d’Hauthuille of New World School of the Arts, Mya Hunter of Young Women’s Preparatory, Leilah Saja of Highland Oaks Middle School, Camran Johnson of Norland Middle School, Peta-gay Sheerwood of William H. Turner Technical Arts High School, and Joshua Jenkins of Miami Northwestern Senior High School.
If I had the room, I would name every single cast member of this production. Unfortunately, I can only have so many words per article.
Director Christy, on careful inspection, is very intense in her directing style. She hones in on every movement and voice inflection and gives direction up to every bat of an eyelash. I’m sure it’s not easy directing a cast of 90; let alone a cast of 90 kids. This feat alone takes time, patience and a lot of hair dye; you know, for the grays. Lucky for Christy, she has no grays to worry about.
I applaud Christy for being able to work with so many kids at one time for the past 20 years and never giving up. Personally speaking, I don’t have the patience to even babysit more than two kids at a time; let alone direct 90.
Voices United is a rare gem of a group that is rarely seen. So is Christy and her colleagues of New World Alumni.
It is my understanding that Voices United has earned its respect from peaceful collaboration and will continue to give hope to young people and parents alike for years to come.
Whatever you do, please, take your children to see Lost & Found, if for nothing else than to find a great place for your children to hone their creativity in a positive way.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Katie Christy, founder and executive director of Voices United, directs cast members of the play Lost & Found.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Lost & Found play
WHEN: Friday, March 27 and Saturday, March 28 at 7:30 p.m.
*Special school performance at Hialeah Senior High School, 251 East 47 Street, Hialeah, on April 16.
WHERE: Ashe Auditorium in the Hyatt Hotel (Downtown Miami) 400 S.E. 2nd Avenue, Miami.
COST: $10; Preferred seating is $30.
CONTACT: Katie Christy 305-726-4822; Katie@voicesunited.org