It’s the last week of Black History Month, and I have reached out to Savion Gates and Brianna Gutierrez, both sophomores at Gainesville Theatre Alliance. You may remember them from last spring’s musical, Pippin. As this month comes to a close, we hope you remember why we celebrate Black History Month. Don’t celebrate just in February, do it every day!
“Stretch your mind and fly”- Whitney M. Young
When did you know you wanted to major in theatre?
Brianna: Personally, I really wanted to be a musical theatre major in college from the moment I started to attend my performing arts high school. It was my dream to go to college, get my degree and then hit Broadway. Dance became an important part of my life and was my first major until I got to be a part of GTA’s production of Pippin and from that first audition I knew I had to find a way to be a part of this family.
Savion: The first time I knew I wanted to pursue musical theatre was in middle school when I attended the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta.
What have been your favorite roles?
Brianna: Well, I loved being in the ensemble of Pippin but I am not going to lie—my favorite role I have ever gotten to play here was Mrs. Hart in this year’s New Play Festival performance because I don’t often get the opportunity to play an evil but glamorous character and that is such a fun thing to do and play around with even through Zoom.
Savion: One of my favorite roles to perform was in Pippin when I got to dance in the Manson Trio. Another one of my favorite roles was playing Javert in Les Misérables my senior year of high school.
What’s the best part about being a performer?
Brianna: For me, the best part is getting to embody someone else’s experience as a vessel for a change. I feel as though entertainment arts does not get the props it deserves for the way it can challenge and change the perspective of how society operates. It is a beautiful thing when the message of the work comes alive in the things stated and unstated.
Savion: The best part for me has been getting to see how much of an impact telling a story can have on people’s lives.
What do you think when you hear “Black History Month”?
Brianna: Honestly, “Black History Month” feels like a gimmick to me. It comes around once a year, is the shortest month out of the year, and is basically used to acknowledge the “better” parts of African American history. My personal dislike for the month is why it is not indoctrinated into us from the beginning like colonization. It is literally history so why is it not taught all year round, why do we not acknowledge the truths of our history as Americans, and why is that as an American I only get the opportunity to learn about my past for a month because of my race while others get to from Kindergarten til 12th Grade?
Savion: When I hear Black History Month, I think about all of the beautiful things that black people have been able to create in spite of systems of oppression.
Is there any specific black figure that inspires you today?
Brianna: There are many that do, but a big inspiration for me would have to be Nina Simone and Debbie Allen. They are two black female artists who went against the grain and did what was then unthinkable for African American females. They both created art that will last lifetimes and gave themselves not only to the movement but gave pathways to little girls like me who want to redefine what it means to be a black female artist in this time.
Savion: My younger sister inspires me to work hard and set high goals for myself.
What does being a black person mean to you?
Brianna: Being black to me is sharing an unspoken sense of lost identity with many other people. It is being able to be able to stand in my own truth and accept the fact that I will not be accepted by everyone. It is looking in the mirror and knowing that my history does not define me but empowers me to strive for something bigger than myself.
Savion: Being a black person means being a part of a beautifully unique and diverse community of people. When I think about being black, I feel joy because I know that I can strive for greatness in my life no matter what challenges I face.
What would you tell your younger self?
Brianna: I would tell myself not to apologize for being who you are and by that I mean in all aspects of life. You do not need to perm and straighten your hair to not be a “distraction” in class. You do not need to code-switch for people to think you are professional. You do not need to seek validation in white people to get somewhere in life.
Savion: I would tell my younger self to continue being yourself and doing the things that bring you joy no matter what other people have to say.
How did you discover GTA?
Brianna: I discovered GTA through another dance major, Jenna Patton, who was double majoring in Theatre and Dance which I did not know was possible. By that point, I had missed Legally Blonde auditions but as soon as Pippin auditions were posted I was signed up and ready with character shoes in hand.
Savion: I first heard about GTA in high school through a mom of a student that had gone through the program. I also learned a lot about GTA while attending the Georgia Thespian Conference my senior year of high school and became very interested in the program.
When did you realize GTA was where you wanted to be?
Brianna: The first audition for Pippin is when I knew GTA was going to be my home. I remember getting prepared for it with (GTA student) Maleah Boyd and freaking out thinking I was going to make a fool of myself but I knew I wanted it bad. I remember giving my audition information to (GTA students) Alyssa Elben and Sara Cook and I just remember they were so sweet and helped with where to go and how everything was going to go. I remember being in one of the last groups of the night yet the faculty was so nice, the kids while auditioning were so encouraging and kind. Up until then, I had never been to an audition where everywhere you looked you could find a smiling face or someone approachable and that was just amazing.
Savion: I knew GTA was where I wanted to be when I auditioned for the program and saw GTA’s production of Cabaret. I was blown away by the performers and the quality of the production.
What is something you look forward to for the future?
Brianna: For me, I am looking forward to change within the theatre community of how it treats people of color. We have come to terms with the fact that there are problems and things need to be changed, but I am wanting the change. I want to see my friends being cast as leads. I want to perform in roles written by people of color. I can`t wait for us to embrace those of mixed ethnicities like myself. I cannot wait for the day that I can walk into an audition and be judged on the content of what I can bring to the stage and not just my outer appearance.
Savion: I look forward to continuing my artistic growth at GTA and using what I’ve learned to enter the professional world of theatre after graduation.