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CSA production explores challenges of a divided world (Video)





On the same November weekend that a gunman stormed an LGBTQ Club in Colorado Springs, Co., and killed five people, the Cleveland School of Arts debuted a musical production titled We Are One. The production, three-and-a-half years in the making, asks several essential questions that couldn’t have been more relevant.

Namely, how can people hailing from deeply polarized and divisive environments learn to understand, empathize with and embrace people who are different from themselves? During this holiday season, those questions are especially timely for reflection.

“The production talks about the fractured world we live in, where we frequently see color or religion or sexual orientation first, (a world) in which we often see fellow human beings as ‘others’ to be suspected or rejected,” said Dr. Scott Miller, Theater Arts Program director for the Cleveland School of Arts.

The production was conceived by Miller and five CSA students in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered schools. After several delays in staging the production, the school decided to make the musical the marquee event of its 40th year anniversary. It brought together student artists from each of the school’s disciplines to create a tapestry of artistic exploration. More than 100 students from Creative Writing, Integrative Art, Dance, Music, Visual Arts and Theater Arts worked on the project, which was recently viewed by several high-profile community sponsors from Greater Cleveland’s art and philanthropic world.

Themes explored in the production included separation of migrant families on America’s Southern border, the dangerous family tensions that developed when a Jewish teenager and a Palestinian teen fell in love, the emergent Black Lives Matter movement that created a counter anti-BLM movement with some angry and disenfranchised white Americans, and a young man’s fear of revealing his true sexual identity to his father.

The production, which was staged over two days, was first previewed for several hundred CMSD eighth graders. The intent was to use the musical as a recruiting tool to showcase the school for soon-to-be high school freshmen and provide a glimpse at the artistic offerings available at the Cleveland School of Arts.

One of the proud viewers at the inaugural performance of We Are One was Ricardo Franklin Sr., recently appointed CSA's head of school. It’s not a well-known fact, but as a CMSD student, Franklin once applied for admission to CSA and was rejected. Now, nearly three decades later, he is the chief administrator for the high-achieving school.

“I’m incredibly proud of our staff, students, alumni and community partners for making this production possible," Franklin said. "One of humanity’s essential questions is: ‘What does it take to embrace people who are not like me?’ We Are One is CSA’s response to this burdensome question. Through hours of practice and rehearsal, while maintaining their academic integrity, more than 100 students from each of our majors worked to give our audience a production to remember.” 

In a world beset by multiple challenges, the Cleveland School of Arts continues to shine brightly and produce exemplary artistic expression. The student-inspired work helps illuminate the challenging and often confusing world we all share.