Linda Kennedy is the artistic associate over education and community programs for The Black Rep, which includes coordinating their annual Summer Performing Arts program for youth ages 8-17.
“You know, a lot of people call it a camp and I hate that! But it is really an intensive on the performing arts,” she argues. The program teaches the participants about both the ins and outs of the business, from auditions to stage management, and promoting their show.
“A lot of these young people don’t want to do sports, or they want to do sports and do performing arts. So we don’t expect all of them to be actors. The one important thing to me is that they see that there are other people of like mind who want to make good grades in school, who want to go on to college, who want to have a career in something – and something concrete.”
Overall, the program helps to demonstrate the process of what it takes to make an arts project succeed and sustain itself – something she feels is missing in the ambition of young people today.
“They don’t want to work through the process of becoming an artist," Kennedy says. "They want to get out of school and boom, make millions of dollars – without realizing that it is a process. All of use aren’t trying to be stars, we’re trying to be working artists.”
A St. Louis native, Kennedy has also directed and performed in theater for three decades.
“My dad wanted me to be a secretary, my mom wanted me to be a teacher, and I wanted to perform, Kennedy says. This position allows me to do all of that.”
She is currently performing in The Black Rep’s final show of the season, ‘The Wiz,’ as Annie Pearl, a witch with a sensuous side. The company’s 36th season has been filled with everything from historical fantasy plays like ‘The Mountaintop’ and 'Anne And Emmett’ to moving forward after enduring war and tragedy as seen in ‘The Whipping Man’ and ‘Smash/Hit.’
“We are blessed to be in the Midwest and have the largest African American company in the country," Kennedy says. "We look very carefully at the works we present. We’re not just doing it to get money. We’re doing it to further education of young people to give more diversity to our audiences; to offer another view or look at a community.”
As financial support has waxed and waned for the arts in recent years – especially for black theater – Kennedy understands that they are lucky to still be around.
“People don’t see the arts as a business," Kennedy says. "They don’t see how it influences 99 percent of our life – everything we wear, computers, everything is through the arts.”
Follow Erin Williams on Twitter: @STLPR_Erin