'The Sound: A Motown Tribute'
Soulful music, synchronized steps and undeniably recognizable tunes will soon take the spotlight in Greer with “The Sound: A Motown Tribute.”
Classics by The Jackson 5, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas and Gladys Knight are just a snippet of the throwback favorites students with the Phillis Wheatley Dwight Woods Repertory Theatre for Youth will perform at the April 24 show, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Harley Bonds Center.
Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.
For more than 96 years, Phillis Wheatley programs have offered educational, social, cultural and recreational support to surrounding communities.
“It’s really just a place, more like a home, for everyone. Somewhere for them to be so the kids won’t be in the street,” said Ollicia Burnside, who performs as Gladys Knight and a member of The Jackson 5. “It helps them stay off the street, helps them have a place go knowing they’re not alone. Mr. Sammy is like a father to everyone that comes in the building so everybody’s is kind of close to him and gains a relationship the moment the set eyes on us.”
In 1985, through the Phillis Wheatley Community Center, the repertory theatre programs were created and have been sustained under the direction of Dwight Woods.
“I came to Phillis Wheatley when I was 12 years old and I worked along side Mr. Woods for a long time. He happened to get sick, so in order to keep the program going, I stepped up and volunteered my services,” said Sammy Dotson, Motown producer and director. “We did not want to just send these kids out into the streets and say, ‘Oh there’s no Repertory Theatre anymore.”
When Mr. Woods died, 30 students participated in the theatre program, which continues to grow, with about 57 students now participating. The students perform all over the southeast, traveling to Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, New York and throughout South Carolina.
Last summer, Students were tasked with researching and listening to Motown artists.
“I wanted to do something different,” Dotson said. “Mr. Woods, one time we had talked about doing something of this nature and we didn’t get an opportunity to do it. I thought it would be good because I was listening to some of the music the kids were listening to and I wanted to educate them on the history of Motown and where the real music came from.”
Students began practicing for their current production last summer and dedicate at least two and half hours each weeknight, in addition to some Saturday practices to prepare for the shows. Thus far, the students have given three performances of “The Sound.” Two additional performances and a summer tour are already lined up.
“It took a-whole–‘nother turn and it’s doing things I didn’t know it would do. We’ve had about 7,500 people come through here to see the production,” Dotson said. “The kids, they love it… For me, for them to have an interest in this kind of music is what really speaks volumes because right now theirs is so much music out there, and there’s so much negative music out there.”
Dotson’s message hit home for Alexis Robertson, who performs in “Postman,” “Brickhouse,” “Money” and as a member of The Jackson 5.
“I learned that the songs, they’re like old time songs so they have a much better meaning in them and they tell a story better than the songs they play now,” she said. “Young people can do anything… We’re not just on our phones, going out all the time. We actually like to learn a lot of stuff.”
A preview performance of the upcoming Greer production was given in February at the MLK Luncheon held at Greer City Hall. Chase Garrett, who plays Barrett Strong and a Temptation, was one of the students who performed at the event.
“I wanted to do it because it motivates me,” Garrett said. “It’s my outlet from life and homework and school, and when I dance and perform it gives me to a chance to show people what I can do through my singing. I really enjoy it.”
Garrett, a ninth-grader at Southside High School, has been involved with the theatre for about five years and hopes to pursue theatre at Julliard following graduation.
“[Younger generations] watching us, I want us to be inspiration to know that when they get older they can join repertory theatre and be just as good as we were and even better,” he said.
For Garrett, nailing down the choreography while staying on rhythm was the hardest part of learning the performance.
“It’s a whole lot of hard work that we put into it, and it’s way more than what they just think it is because we’re not just kids playing the people. We try to become the people. Mr. Sammy tells me, ‘I don’t want you to just sing the song — be Barrett Strong,’ or ‘be the Temptations,’” he said.
Holding true to the original Motown sound, and with the assistance of a live band, “The Sound” aims to reach beyond simply bridging generations; it aims to remind older generations of memories associated with the Motown era music.
“I want to take [the audience] on a journey that, as soon as they hear it, instantly it reminds them of a certain time or era in life. They forget that it’s kids that are performing, and they forget that it’s 2015. It’s like ‘Oh, I remember.’ It just cuts them right to (another time) and transcends the room,” Band Director Da’ryll Searles said. “Being able to have that power over the crowd it’s a special thing. You don’t want them to leave just saying it’s a good performance, you want them to leave saying it was a good experience and it took them on a journey.
That’s long lasting definitely.
For more information about the upcoming shows, visit the Phillis Wheatley Repertory Theatre Facebook page. To reserve tickets, contact council member Wayne Griffin at email@example.com or 879-2617.
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