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Alumna awarded fellowship to research history of people of color in youth theater programs

  • Shavonne Coleman

Posted on February 14, 2018

Shavonne Coleman has a pink Post-it note with the name Ann K. Flagg written on it hanging in her office. It may not seem like much, but it is something she has carried with her since graduate school in 2011. For Coleman it represents a larger concern-a lack of history about people of color in youth theater. 

Ann K. Flagg is a woman of color who was previously a director and playwright at Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio, the oldest African-American-operated theater in the U.S. She was one of the only people of color in youth theater that Coleman encountered in her text books.

Coleman now has the opportunity to uncover that history as a 2018 Theatre for Young Audience (TYA) Emerging Leader Fellow when she travels to Arizona State University this spring to research the topic.

"I hope that my work will provide a space for numerous people to continue the conversation," said Coleman, who graduated from Grand Valley in 2007 and currently serves as a visiting professor of theater.  "I hope that my voice will strengthen the vocal cords of this movement in order to keep pushing people and institutions forward in this direction, as well as continue to solidify the need for this kind of work." 

Since leaving Grand Valley, Coleman traveled to Seoul, South Korea to direct a performance at the Zoom Theatre in 2013. More recently, Coleman has been a teaching artist for VSA Michigan, Cross Town Theatre and Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit. She is also the founder of Acting O.U.T., a creative arts development organization in Detroit. 

While she has been active in her field for many years, Coleman has yet to dive into expanding the research regarding people of color in youth theater.

"In a class discussion, I was told that people of color weren't participating in drama for youth as recently as the 1990s," said Coleman. "I knew that couldn't be true, but I didn't know what to do about it." 

Throughout Coleman's vibrant career the issue she first learned about in graduate school was never forgotten. When applications were being accepted for the fellowship she realized she could finally make a difference. Receiving the fellowship showed her not only the commitment to these issues that both TYA, Grand Valley and other communities have, but also how she can make an impact by ensuring the efforts by people of color are seen.

Coleman continues to spread her Laker Effect, and she is excited to encourage her students to do the same.

"Being a Laker for a Lifetime is so true," said Coleman, "I'm a Laker, and I want to make Grand Valley better. I want to help students make an impact or help them get involved."

-Story written by Kate Ryan, student writer