Spotlight on New York City: Uzo Aduba & Auli’i Cravalho at A night of Yes! for Opening Act annual benefit

New York, New World Stages
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Last Tuesday night, “Opening Act” presented their annual star-studded benefit aptly titled “A Night of Yes” at New World Stages. Opening Act is a non-profit organization that brings theatre programs into under-serving schools throughout New York City. The title for their benefit comes from the number one rule of improv, always agree and say “YES, and…”

A NIGHT OF YES! cast members Marcus Denard Johnson, Liz Morgan, Heather Alicia Simms, Tom Pelphrey, and Melle Powers - Photo by Charles Chessler

A NIGHT OF YES! cast members Marcus Denard Johnson, Liz Morgan, Heather Alicia Simms, Tom Pelphrey, and Melle Powers – Photo by Charles Chessler

Opening Act’s mission statement reads: “Founded in 2000 by actors and educators, Opening Act seeks to level the playing field for our students by specifically partnering with NYC schools that have lower than average graduation rates (as few as 33% of students graduating in four years) and an evident lack of theater programming. Opening Act gives high school students opportunities to develop leadership, community, and commitment through its innovative, high quality, free, After-School Theater Program.”

Their efforts have surely paid off as the students who performed at the benefit showed their impressive maturity and professionalism, while having to follow the incredible famous talent who donated their time to the evening. The celebrities who took part in the scene readings were emmy winner Uzo Aduba, who plays “Crazy Eyes” on “Orange is the New Black,” original “Hamilton” cast member Jasmine Cephas Jones, “Atlanta’s” Zazie Beetz, “Iron Fist’s” Tom Pelphry, and “The Deuce’s” Dominique Fishback all starred and gave moving performances. The reading was directed for the third year in a row by Tony Award-winner Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun, HAIRSPRAY LIVE!), and featured scenes by renowned playwrights Katori Hall and Ike Holter. An impressive conscious raising original work by the students of Opening Act followed, and the evening ended with musical performances from the voice of Moana, Disney’s newest princess, Auli’i Cravalho in addition to original “Hamilton” star Okieriete Onaodowan, who will be replacing Josh Groban this summer in Broadway’s “The Great Comet of 1812.”

A NIGHT OF YES! cast member Auli'i Cravalho with cast members of the NBC pilot DRAMA HIGH Photo by Charles Chessler

A NIGHT OF YES! cast member Auli’i Cravalho with cast members of the NBC pilot DRAMA HIGH
Photo by Charles Chessler

Dominique Fishback, who gained attention among many industry professionals for her self-inscribed solo play “Subverted,” spoke to me regarding her experience participating in the benefit. Of all the celebrities she got the opportunity to work with this week, she was most excited to work with Zazie Beetz for a second time.

A NIGHT OF YES! Director Kenny Leon Photo by Charles Chessler

A NIGHT OF YES! Director Kenny Leon
Photo by Charles Chessler

Beetz played Fishback’s sister in her very first play over ten years ago. “We haven’t seen each other in so long and not worked together in ten years, so to hear that she was going to be a part of it made me so excited. It was also my first time working with the director, Kenny Leon. He was awesome and so specific, really bringing out the truthfulness of the piece.” which I agreed really showed on stage.
Check out the exciting project Dominique will be starring in next by following her on instagram @domfishback and twitter @Domfishback.

A NIGHT OF YES! cast member Dominique Fishback and Director Kenny Leon Photo by Charles Chessler

A NIGHT OF YES! cast member Dominique Fishback and Director Kenny Leon
Photo by Charles Chessler

The program provides jobs that allow a flexible schedule for actors as teaching artists, who have to make their rent in New York City in order to chase their dreams. Actor and teaching artist Ashleigh Awusie is one of the fabulous part time teachers for the program. She told me she guides the “kids (to) produce an entire original piece which is improv’d based and they then perform for their peers on campus and off-broadway,” which you can see May 8-13. The locations of the performances are available on the website. http://openingact.org/student-shows/ Awusie said, “The goal really is that they’ll be a able to express themselves better and really find their place in this world, which can be very confusing.” Awusie has managed to maintain her professional acting career and you can see her in action in the independent feature “Naz and Maalik,” which is available on Netflix exclusively in the United States as of the moment. You can follow where the future takes her on Instagram @ash.awusie and twitter @Awusie.

A NIGHT OF YES! cast member Auli'i Cravalho's fellow cast members of the NBC pilot DRAMA HIGH Photo by Charles Chessler

A NIGHT OF YES! cast member Auli’i Cravalho’s fellow cast members of the NBC pilot DRAMA HIGH
Photo by Charles Chessler

The program is truly blessed to have Suzy Myers Jackson as executive director. Jackson opened and closed the evening with two passionate speeches that displayed her care for these students and determination to collect the funds necessary to provide the tools that will help these students for a lifetime, no matter whether they choose to pursue a career in the arts or elsewhere. Definitely say YES to attending this annual benefit some time in the future if possible. You’ll be sure to have a wonderful night with wonderful people all-while helping a wonderful cause.

For more on Opening Act, visit their website

Blaise Buckley is an actor and screenwriter who hails from New York City, where he currently resides. Since graduating from The New School for Public Engagement, he has been found globe trotting throughout the United States and Europe as a journalist. His passion for theatre and the arts has taken him on an exciting journey so far and he looks forward to collaborating with Mood Board Magazine.