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Ellington School's Dreamgirls a must see

Nothing much surprises me anymore. If I saw a squirrel speaking politics to a pit bull in the middle of Dupont Circle, I would probably walk right by without a second glance at this point in my life. But I am now officially surprised. Disclaimer: no squirrels or pit bulls were injured in the writing of this article. Recently I was privileged to be among the audience in house at the Duke Ellington School’s theater to see their production of Dreamgirls. This is in no way similar to any of the high school productions I witnessed or took part in as a kid. No.

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Bill Nielsen for Duke Ellington School
Bill Nielsen for Duke Ellington School

My surprise stemmed from the caliber of talent represented. What I experienced on the stage of THIS high school was just about equal to Broadway. Really. One could easily forget those in the pit; the costume builders; the set and tech creators, and most importantly the actors and their footwork and voices were around 16 to 18 years of age. Suddenly my sophomoric productions of My Fair Lady, Camelot, South Pacific and Bye Bye Birdie seemed …well… sophomoric. What these kids with their instructors and mentors have accomplished is in a word, to me, miraculous. Forget the fact that these teenagers could read lines and belt out songs like the Supremes, James Brown and {insert your favorite here}. Forget the fact that the harmonies were spot on, the dancing precision and the costumes and sets, even the more complicated ones, perfect. Sit in the audience and close your eyes. Listen—because what you are hearing is important. Gaze on it—because what you are seeing is vital. Go ahead. Read the headlines and the horror stories. Then right after that, read how funding for the arts in our schools is being cut daily; read how our schools’ budgets are being cut minute by minute. Rewind back to the Duke Ellington School—among the first ‘Charter’ schools in the District. With a million dollar shortfall in its budget, the larger scale production of Dreamgirls was designed to raise much needed funds. They need to raise $500,000 by January alone to save the jobs of eight of their teachers. It is important to note that these teachers send 95% of Duke Ellington graduates to institutes of higher education. Compared to the national average, that is staggering high. As I sat with my companions in the audience in awe of the raw talent on that stage

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Neshan H. Naltchayan
Neshan H. Naltchayan

at the Ellington School, I was both thrilled and relieved to know there is a place for these kids where their amazing gifts are strengthened and supported; where they receive an education and where they can make the most of what they are lucky enough to have come to them naturally. Because what a senseless waste it would be to have all of that in them and never bring it into full bloom. And without institutions such as this one, located in our own backyard, chances are that skill

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Bill Nielsen for Duke Ellington School
Bill Nielsen for Duke Ellington School

would never see daylight nor would it be shared by those of us lucky enough to witness it. It might be worth remembering that next time there is a consideration of cutting arts in schools. The kids at Ellington are talented in the arts. Some children have other talents—in the sciences; in technical vocations; in sports. Not all students learn the same way. As we complain and bemoan our educational system and the fact that other countries are outdoing our own US bred talent, perhaps it might be wise to take a moment to ask ourselves why? Forgive me for standing on my soapbox, but I, for one, cannot think of any more important place to put funding than in the investment of cultivating our children’s talents—whatever they may be, and certainly their education—which is not only the ‘three R’s. I, for one, want to see fine art, listen to music, witness the beauty of dance and know that it will be fostered in those that have the talent to offer—not just today but into the future and beyond--and I hope we are wise enough to expose our children to it and to grow their potential in it. Those who agree with me, please raise your hands. Dreamgirls will be running at the Duke Ellington School located at 3500 R Street, NW, until December 18th. To purchase tickets or for further information, log into the Duke Ellington School