“Portraits Alive!” 2010: Meet the Cast – National Portrait Gallery

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The character I chose to portray is Mikhail
Baryshnikov. Mohammed Ali. Denyce Graves. This summer I am portraying Marion Anderson. Ira Aldridge. Kate Millett. Allen Ginsberg. I chose Janis Joplin to portray. My name is Ashley Hughes and in a couple of
weeks I will be a freshman at Barry University which is in Miami Shores, Florida, and I chose
Janis Joplin to portray. First and foremost I chose Janis Joplin because
I just love ‘60s. I think the ‘60s were an amazing time with
like Woodstock and Janis and Jimmy Hendrix and everything that was just going on in the
‘60s. And also I think Janis Joplin is a very interesting
character. She opened a lot of doors and she was just
an overall amazing person. I feel like when you’re really passionate
about something you don’t hold back. You give it your all. Beatniks and hippies are the most passionate
people. It’s like I feel like if I hold back I’m
no good now, and I’d rather be good sometimes than holding back all the time. Like I said, when you’re free it’s hard,
but when it works, it’s sure worth it. My favorite Janis Joplin songs are “Cry
Baby” and “Mercedes Benz.” [Singing] “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a
Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porsches. I must make amends.” [Laughter] I am Justin Cheney. I portray Ira Aldridge and I am attending
Columbia College Chicago. …caused by my race. It was a novelty to have a man of color included
in the cast. I was a black-skinned cheap attraction for
gross revenue. No one expected much from me. They came not to appreciate my talent but
to point and laugh. I chose to portray Ira Aldridge after I saw
his portrait. I didn’t read the writing next to it and so
I didn’t really know he was in character for Othello. So I just see this man dressed in clothes
like I’m wearing right now and it just made me wonder what was his station in life? Who was he that he could wear this sort of
thing? Especially since it’s a little dated. I mean, you think people might have an issue
with a black man wearing that sort of thing. And so all portraits have, like, a presence
but he also had mystery and so that’s why I picked him. I practice my trade in meaningless territories. And by 1830, I had exhausted every African
role I could get my hands on. So, donned in a wig and pale makeup, I began
to play non-black roles. I added Macbeth, King Lear, Richard III to
my repertoire. I began to tour Europe where I gained true
success. I played for the royalty of a dozen nations. My name is Tiana Long. I attend Thurgood Marshall Academy, and this
summer, I am portraying Marian Anderson. Even though she was soft-spoken and, like,
kind of shy, she was, like, a very powerful person. And, like, I really look up to her and I wish
she was alive so I could, like, meet her. On Easter Sunday, 1939, thousands of people
gathered on the steps of Lincoln Memorial. There were people farther than the eye can
see. I was so nervous. I didn’t think that I would be able to speak
to them, let alone perform. In the end I did. I sang for the whole program, not even knowing
what I was singing until newspaper reported on it the next day. She mentioned that she was really nervous
about doing it, scared, that she didn’t think she was going to do it. But she sucked it up and gathered – I don’t
know where she gathered the courage from – but she did it. My name is Chris Shelb. I go to Duke Ellington School of the Arts. I am a flute major. Ginsburg’s most significant contribution in
my opinion is probably his poetry, including “Howl,” “Kaddish,” and also his involvement
in the anti-war movement in Vietnam. So he was a large protester against the war
and promoted a lot of, just peace in the US. Exhausted, exhausted state of the world. We became the archetypes of the Beat Generation. Radicals of the time, we would…. The most fun moment portraying Ginsberg had
to be when I say part of his poem “Howl” towards the end of my monologue. “Those who threw potato salad at the CCNY
lectures on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves with shaven heads and Harlequin
speeches of suicide on the granite steps of the madhouse….” “Shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide,
demanding instantaneous lobotomy, but who instead received the concrete void of Metrazol
insulin hydrotherapy electricity therapy occupational therapy ping pong and amnesia.” And I want to change we will see, not just
to ruin it and complain, which is why I write my poetry: to represent my deep seated emotions,
my levitations, and my beliefs. But poetry is not just an expression of the
party line. It’s that kind of light that thinking what
you really think and making the private world public. I am Tatiana Georgis Brown and I am Elizabeth
Seton High School in Bladensburg, Maryland. I’ll be an upcoming senior, and I chose
to portray Denyce Graves. I chose to portray Denyce Graves because there’s…
you’re amazed by her beauty. When you first see the portrait, that’s all
you see. And there’s a greater story beyond beauty. Participation in the church was required. It’s where I found my passion: singing. Following that passion lead me to the Duke
Ellington School for the Performing Arts. Yes, you have to say it like that. I was accepted immediately and I received
private voice lessons. And I attended my first opera, Beethoven’s
“Fidelio.” As the singer beautifully sang the words and
they reverberated throughout the halls, I decided to transcend my surroundings, to do
the one thing I love for the rest of my life, and become very rich and very famous for it. That I did it, but it was a struggle. After I graduated high school, I attended
the Oberlin Conservatory…I’m not the one to wear red lipstick. I also don’t say things but now I think
it’s helped me in real life to be bold and really harsh with my decisions to do them
and do them greatly. My favorite part of the whole summer was performing
with the cast every day. We’re all different, we all come from different
backgrounds, and each day is new and funnier. And it’s just a great time. My name is James Tindel. I just recently graduated from Booker T Washington
Public Charter School and the character I chose to portray is Mikhail Baryshnikov. I believe Baryshnikov’s strongest trait
will probably be his confidence. He’s definitely… he knows what he has. He knows that he’s talented. He knows that he’s successful. And he knows he’s great at what he does. I say at all times now in my real-life I try
to be confident in everything that go at or go for. None of this is why I dance. I dance because I am passionate and I’m
successful because I work hard. And nothing but that. I tried a lot of things, but I got lucky. I fell in love with dance. It wasn’t until [inaudible] that I began
to focus on dance. There I met Alexander [inaudible]. I was crazy so I walked right up to him and
said… For the 10 ambassadors that will be here next
year for the summer of 2011, at all times, try to remain high-spirited because sometimes
throughout the process it can get you down. You may seem a little bit frustrated about
things that… that you might have to endure, but I think that the entire summer will prove
to be an amazing process. It’s an amazing adventure and you will love
it so please give it all you have. My name is Aliyah Cabishaw and I attend the
Field School in Washington, DC. …and work hard. When I came back, the world remembered who
I am. I hated every minute of training, but I told
myself suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion. I chose Muhammad Ali because he has a very
strong presence and he’s a very interesting figure in American history. And I feel as though he marketed himself in
a way that made everyone believe exactly what he wanted them to believe. And I think that’s very interesting, and
that’s a very interesting quality about him. I trained hard and I became undefeated. In 1964 I shook the world when I knocked out
Sonny Liston and became the heavyweight champion. I was the greatest. I was at the top of my game. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,
and I had all eyes on me. And just like boxing, I took my faith very
seriously. Well, he leads with his left and then he breaks
in with the right. So he punches you with his left, and you think
“Ow, ow, ow.” But then when that right comes, it’s game
over. My name as Lorin Walker. I am a soon-to-be-senior at Duke Ellington
School of the Arts and I portray the character of Kate Millett. One reason why I wanted to portrait Kate Millett
is because when I was walking around the gallery, I walked past this portrait and her eyes wouldn’t
stop following me. I would go up low, I would peak around the
corner, and it seemed like she was always looking at me. So I was just like okay, I have to do you. And then when I started to researcher her,
I knew nothing about her to begin with. So I started to research her and I was like,
wow, you are really interesting. Like, I’ve never dabbled with a character
who was inspired by, you know, women and the feminist movement. So I felt this would be like a really complex
character to portray and get a hold on. See, the cage or the jail is what we are all
trying to break. We all have this desire to be free, but the
minds of ignorant people in power act like cages or barriers to freedom and equality. But I am one of the many fighting to break
loose. Thank you. So, I wrote a book. “Sexual Politics.” I wanted to trace back the reason why the
first waves of the sexual revolution started and how it changed throughout the currents
of literature showing how literature reflects certain sides of our lives the way a diamond
or a broken bottle does. It achieved instant success… Oh gosh. The greatest thing I will take away from this
experience is a consistent amount energy. Not lowering your energy just because you’re
tired but heightening it because you know you have to tell the story of your character. Like, you don’t matter when it comes to performing. The character does. Yourself aside. No matter how tired or whatever you may be,
you still have to tell the story of that character because it can actually touch somebody’s life
that day. I am Geri Provost-Lyons and I am the Youth
and Family Program Coordinator at the National Portrait Gallery. The first day they get here, basically we
hit the ground running and we figure out what it is exactly they’re going to be doing for
the summer. Shortly after that, we give them a tour of
the Portrait Gallery. What is this place about? Teach them how to read portraiture, look at
portraiture. What is it? What does it mean? What do the… what do the signs and symbols
in some portraits mean? Just kind of get them geared up with that. We also have the students work with summer
camp students so that they can interact with visitors prior to their performances. So it’s not so jarring and shocking to them. Then we start on the research process and
they choose who they would like to become. Shortly after that, we go through a writing
process. This year it included a week of poetry, two
hours a day for five days. And then we also integrate into their theater
exercises so that they can really physicalize and embody their character, kind of leaving
themselves at the door here when they come in and really trying to embody their character. Shortly after all of that, once they’re monologue
is complete, then it’s a matter of how do we make the story fit together? So we do a number of writing exercises in
order to have the students understand what it is the people are passionate about, you
know, all of these people. Why are they important? Why are they here? Not the everyday stories but what makes them
an American icon. …rage and then the hero is usually a pretty young person, right? It’s a young person who is going to change
the world, who’s going to shape the world for what? One word: better. Yeah. Then in the end, they perform. And in the end of the end, it’s sad when it’s
over because they have a really good time and they’re really, really talented young
people.

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