On October 21, North Country School had the pleasure of hosting a transformative event, “Arts in the Adirondacks: Amplifying Diverse Voices,” in our Walter Breeman Performing Arts Center (WallyPAC). The event showcased the talents of a diverse slate of artists and provided space for them to share their stories with an audience that included students from North Country School and other area schools, as well as local community members. Throughout the day, a common thread in all of the artists’ stories emerged—the moment when they were able to truly see themselves in another person in a way that inspired them to realize, “That could be me someday.”
For Oyoyo “Yoyo” Joi—currently starring as Satine in Moulin Rouge on Broadway—she said her moment of inspiration to pursue a career on Broadway first came when she had the opportunity to see Audra McDonald, a luminary in the Broadway scene, perform on stage for the first time.
Yoyo was 16 years old attending a performing arts high school on 49th Street in New York City, just two blocks away from where she now works. She recalled for the audience that she had heard about a show called 110 in the Shade that was going to be performed at a theater around the corner—and the star of the show was prolific Broadway actress Audra Mcdonald.
“I knew Audra McDonald from my favorite musical Ragtime. I know she played Sarah. I knew every line she sang. I knew about Audra Mcdonald because she was a black woman with dark chocolate skin and big hair, and I knew everything about her,” Yoyo reflected. “I snuck out to see her perform. She was the only black person on the stage.”
Yoyo recalled the power of that moment in her life. “I am watching this woman up there who has chocolate skin like me. Big black hair like me. I’m watching her elegance,” she said. And it was in that moment as she watched Audra on stage that she said to herself, “Audra’s doing it. I want to try and do that. I want to feel this way all the time. I want to make people feel this way and see me in this light. I’m going to do it. I’m going to be on Broadway because I saw her and I am her. She is me and we are we. ”
Fast forward and Yoyo is doing it. Today, when she bows at the end of a night performing, she looks out at the audience from the stage, and it looks a little different. She sees dozens of people of color watching her—and standing beside her, other performers who look like her, instead of just a single individual standing alone—brave, but still alone—as she once saw Audra.
Of Audra, Yoyo said, “She changed the trajectory of my life and I’m curious to know, what these black teenagers who come on their school trips and see me as a lead on Broadway— I wonder where they’re going to end up or who else is being inspired by who they see on the stage. Diversity in the arts is so important.”
Yoyo and the other artists featured at “Arts in the Adirondacks” are living proof of just how important diversity in the arts is. Throughout their lives, each overcame barriers, carved their own paths, and are now standing proudly in their own unique spotlights. Their stories are not just tales of personal triumph but also narratives of becoming beacons of inspiration for younger generations.
Standing proudly alongside Yoyo for the day-long event were comedic actress Megan Masako Haley, who made her Broadway National Tour debut playing Nessarose in Wicked, Akwesasne Mohawk Artist David Kanietakeron Fadden whose paintings have been featured in over 100 publications relating to First Nations, Director of EMERGE125, a dance company focused on performance, education, and social justice, Tiffany Rea-Fisher and two dancers from her company, Dennzyl Green and Tiffany Terry, traditional West African drummer Dian Bah and North Country School and Camp Treetops staff member Dian Bah, and sculptor and stagecraft and industrial arts teacher and faculty member at North Country School, Larry Robjent.
Earlier in the day, they each had the chance to interact with students from North Country School and other local schools during small rotating workshops where they shared their talents and passions—and inspired. These short workshops provided windows into the varied experiences and backgrounds that shaped their stories. And for the students, it gave them the opportunity to see successful artists who once stood in their very shoes, serving as a powerful reminder that dreams—regardless of the color of your skin, your socioeconomic standing, your religion, your gender, or any of the other defining characteristics that make us who we are—can indeed come true.
The event was a beautiful celebration of unity and stressed the importance of amplifying diverse voices here in our local communities through its rich sampling of the tapestry of talent that exists here in our own region. Through the arts, the performers communicated not only their individual journeys but also the collective power of diversity. Each note, each dance move, each painting, and each spoken word became a testament to the strength found in embracing our differences.
Read more about the event and hear what some North Country School students took away from the day in this feature from the Lake Placid New, hear more of North Country School Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Yunga Webb’s thoughts on the importance of this event for North Country School and our local communities in her interview with NCPR, and watch a compilation video from our Instagram channel below.
We look forward to welcoming our community back soon. Stay tuned for more exciting events happening here at North Country School and Camp Treetops.