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Entries in Kuumba Consultants (1)

Friday
Apr122013

Reenah Golden

Some artists are inspired by nature. Or politics. Or history. Reenah's muse? Her son, Jahmal. In a way, her art grew up with her son. And in a play she's currently starring in at Rochester's GeVa Theatre, art imitates life with perfect symmetry.

When Jahmal entered public school in Rochester, something was missing from the experience. So Reenah filled the void herself.

“The big push for me was I wanted my child to have a good experience growing up here,” says the Rochester native, U.S. Army veteran, and RIT grad.

“I was a writer first. It was more of a private thing that I did until my adult life,” says Reenah Golden, a teaching artist from Rochester who returned to the arts as a way to enrich her own son's education. Today. she's a two-time New York State Council on the Arts Individual Artist Award winner.“I started doing poetry and drama with the kids. Shortly after that, I quit my corporate job so I could be more involved with my son and started developing a new career. My work in school with youth has grown up with him,” she says.

As Jahmal grew, Reenah's work as a teaching artist developed, too. She followed her son to School of the Arts—a high school for the visual and performing arts in the city school district.

There, she created Slam High, a team-based poetry program for English class that cultivated spoken-word artists who would be fit to compete and perform on a national level.

In 2008, Slam High team of poets competed for, and won, a national title. That same year, it was featured in an HBO documentary series, Brave New Voices, from the name of a national association of similar programs.

Since then, spoken-word programs have been introduced throughout Rochester city schools.

“There's spoken word and slam poetry in almost every program in Rochester,” Reenah says. “It didn't exist before Slam High.”

Today, Jahmal is 18 and a sophomore at The New School, pursuing a dual degree in fashion photography and literary studies. His passion for the arts has blossomed.

So has Reenah's. Alongside Delores Radney, she went on to co-found Rochester-based Kuumba Consultants, an arts-in-education agency that matches artists of color with youth agencies and schools to enrich their arts and cultural programming. She also teaches and lectures at high schools, colleges, and cultural institutions around the country.

While she still calls Rochester home, Reenah's busy schedule means most of her year is spent on the road.

Reenah takes on 16 roles to perform "No Child," a play running through April21 at GeVa Theatre Center in Rochester.But at the moment, she's back in town to take center stage in a one-woman show—and it's a fitting extension of her passion for arts in education.

In No Child, by Nilaja Sun, now playing at GeVa Theatre, Reenah takes on a staggering 16 roles—from teacher to student to parent to janitor—that each show the power of the arts in education. Particularly the difference one great teacher can make with her students.

A key character in the story is a tenth-grade Bronx public school teacher trying to inspire underachieving students by having them put on a play of their own.

No Child is my story,” Reenah says. “It's my life. Right down to the classroom experiences. That's really what attracted me to this play. Some friends of mine who were teaching artists came to me and said 'we really want to bring you into this play.' Shortly after that, I realized they were looking to me to perform.”

The range of ethnicity and ages she takes on are as varied as the characters themselves. And all of them depend on Reenah's talent for transforming from person to person as the story progresses. No costume changes, either.

No Child first opened off-Broadway in 2006 and won an Obie Award. It was first staged in Rochester in fall 2009, when Reenah first starred in the production. She's since performed the play in several cities, and the production has evolved. The current run at GeVa will have a different aesthetic. But the same great story.

“It's going to be a prettier show,” Reenah says. “I have my stage manager and lighting director I work with that I brought in. They're doing some really special things. We have a set this time, but it's still minimal. The aesthetics of the play have changed. It also changes based on what's happening with current events, there's a different energy based on some of the issues going on today.”

Art grows up with artists. Good reason for applause. 

 

See more: Reenah at GeVa

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No Child, a play by Nilaja Sun starring Reenah Golden, runs at GeVa Theatre Center's Nextstage through April 21, 2013. The play is 65 minutes without intermission, and is recommended for ages 13 and up. For showtimes and ticket information, visit gevatheatre.org