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‘I’M AN INVENTOR, I’M A TECH WIZ, MY IDEAS GO CRAZY, LIKE SODA POP FIZZ’

Written By Taima Hervas
June 16, 2023 at 10:53 AM

Students from Treasure Island Elementary and Airbase K-8 Center hop on stage for pictures with the workshop cast of “The Busy Bees’ Great Adventure,” From left to right: Sir Lancelot Jones: Atrevis McCullough, Mr. Sea Turtle: Dayron Leon, Bumble Bee- Melissa Ann Hubicsak, Wanna Bee – Victoria Strong, Busy Bee- Brittany Nicholson, Grumble Bee: Ja’Nia Harden, Galactica- Lauren Lopez, Galactico: Kyran Wright. Photo by Alex Markow.

“The Busy Bees’ Great Adventure,” a Miami-made, hip hop, time travel musical with an important environmental message featuring four female honey bees trying to save planet Earth, is well into development at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.  The first collaborative student workshops involving 200 middle schoolers were completed in May, auditions are up next on June 26th and 27th, and the show is set to premiere in October 2023 to be seen by 47,000 Miami-Dade public elementary school students.

Lakeisha Frith, Producer and Director of Education at the Arsht Center, described the big picture behind their “Learning Through the Arts” program which collaboratively draws on the performing arts as a pathway to engage Miami-Dade students through an in-person theatrical arts education.

“Our mission has been to broaden our reach with students so that they have this connection coming in elementary school, they come back in middle school, and then in high school. Eventually they’re going to be our patrons…They come and see what’s on stage and we also go to their schools and do different workshops and presentations. They’re receiving arts education from all angles,” explained Frith.

Frith described the student creative workshops in early May, “I’m really excited about this production, especially knowing that we’re working with our youngest students, third, fourth and fifth grade…they walked into the Arsht Centre so excited. They wanted to know what their job was going to be. What were they doing here?…We want them to see themselves and where they live reflected on a stage and to be able to tell their stories.”

Treasure Island Elementary and Airbase K-8 center students eager to answer questions about the performance preview they just saw. Director Ashlee Thomas poses a number of questions asking children to recall portions of the musical. Photo by Alex Markow.

“They come to a production like this and see the playwright is from Miami, and the director is from Miami, and the cast is also from Miami, they can feel that they’re part of the production and feel that their community is part of something much larger,” emphasized Frith.

Show Director Ashlee Thomas is a Miami native who grew up in Liberty City, went to Miami Dade Public schools, graduated from the New World School of the Arts for musical theatre, then on to Florida State University. Her career took her to Los Angeles “to become an Artist,” and then onto Melbourne, Australia.  Cole described her return to Miami, “About 2014, I came home, home to Miami. And I said, what’s next? I feel like artists, you’re on a pilgrimage and you’re really just trying to find your place…I was writing a script that didn’t have a lot of female representation, so I included the busy bees…to balance out some of the gender representation…about four years later, the pandemic happened, and the bees started talking… I wrote the story that the bees needed me to say from the things that we had started to recognize – that while we were away, nature started to come back.”

Ashlee K. Thomas, Playwright “The Busy Bee’s Great Adventure” a full time writer and arts producer. Photo courtesy of the Artist.

Thomas explained her character creation, “When someone closes their eyes to picture an astrophysicist, we don’t see a black child or brown child. We don’t see  a girl. So the idea was to put these qualities in female characters…keeping gender balance as well, both energies are needed if we’re going to make the world a better place.

Thomas described how she shared climate change mitigation information in workshops with the students, “When we talked about the environment, we did a game with the students to teach them how to sort different recyclables, things to refuse, things to reduce, reuse, and we also added in composting… we learned that a lot of our waste is actually compostable…we wanted to make sure that students have that kind of environmental literacy.”

One of her favorite characters is based on a seldom mentioned south Florida environmental hero, and Thomas was happily surprised how well the students retained what she had written about him, “In the Q&A part there is a character, Sir Lancelot Jones, who was a historical figure, an African American pioneer who saved Biscayne National Park.

“I asked the students, do you remember this person’s name? They say Sir Lancelot’s name, they say his father’s name, then, Lady Mozelle, which is the mother, she is only mentioned once, and the students are like, ‘oh, yeah, we heard that!’ …they were so engaged and attentive. They don’t know that they’re learning their own South Floridian history…I know once they go back into the classroom, and the curriculum is used, they’re gonna have those aha moments,” said Thomas.

“The Busy Bees’ Great Adventure” Composer Nico Raimont has a lot to say about hip hop, and his expertise, enthusiasm and keen insights shine through, “Hip hop has always been a genre that is an expression of class struggle. It has always been predominantly black, but also black and brown folks, using their pen and using their language and the language of the street…to express their woes, their rhythm and their blues… to try to reach for something higher…The way that we’re using it in the show to exemplify the environmental crisis through a tongue in cheek ‘kid appropriate lens.’

Character Sketch: “Bumble Bee is the coolest tech whiz, the brains of the group. She is the voice of reason, always looking for a solution rather than a problem.” Art by Nica Sweet.

“But we’re using the old school sound of Run DMC, and Public Enemy, and then we’re clashing with Kendrick Lamar. Ashlee comes from that old school, you know, Mary J. Blige, and is kind of like 80s, 90s, 2000s hip hop, and I have such an appreciation for that era of the genre, but I’m way more into my 2010s and newer stuff that’s coming out with our future, like Brock Hanson and Frank Ocean. We’re sort of genre fusing.

“That’s what I think is beautiful about the pieces, that our two sensibilities have been able to come together in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s derivative of any of those artists, but we’re trying to honor the tradition of hip hop, but in our own, sort of Ashlee and Nico style…At one point, the song is in this very ‘Put Your Hands Up,’ like Busta Rhymes. moment but then we sort of clash into like, this very, you know, sort of singsongy musical theatre style, because it still is musical theatre.”

When asked if he had a favorite bee, Raimont considered, “There is this one Bee, ‘Bumble Bee,’… she is an inventor, and she has this great song and the chorus of that song is the one that I think I have the most fun with, and it goes:

“I’m an inventor

I’m a tech wiz

my ideas go crazy

like soda pop fizz

I’m a creator

Yes, I make things

with brains and my tools

science gives me wings

like, Oooh la, oooh la

“The fact that Ashley has the madness inside of her to write a lyric like ‘my ideas go crazy like soda pop fizz,’… the imagery and texture is just so fun…and being able to put a black or brown woman on stage…and for the black and brown kids to say  ‘that’s someone who looks like me, who is an inventor and a tech whiz and her ideas go crazy like soda pop things,’…When you’re able to see some a part of you that you didn’t recognise in yourself, that allows you to reach for that. So I’m excited for that song not only to be really fun and quirky lyrically, but maybe some kid is gonna see that and be like, ‘I’m gonna be a scientist,’ and then they’ll go be a scientist.”

Elementary student from Air Base Elementary, Homestead, FL, takes a few moments out on the Arsht Center Plaza to give her feedback following “The Busy Bees Great Adventure” workshop. Photo by Alex Markow.

Musical theater educator and “The Busy Bees’ Great Adventure” Director Tanisha Cidel, was born and raised in Miami, educated in the public school system in Miami-Dade, and has remained in Miami despite the call of LA and New York, “I’m just a lover of Miami. I believe in Miami,” she affirmed. Cidel is the director of the magnet theater program at Norland Middle School where she has taught for 22 years, during which time she received the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from Michelle Obama at the White House.

Her students have gone on to become stars including in “Black Panther,” “Hamilton” and the Academy Award winning film “Moonlight,” in which she too was cast and became the on set teacher. She explained that since Moonlight, “my life has changed, my kids have been changed simply because they know what is possible. My goal is that every child knows that becoming an artist and being an artist is not just possible, but that you can create change with what you do.”

From the busy bee workshops, she highlighted a theater education moment which really resonated with her, “One question we asked was, ‘What were the Galactical twins doing when they were talking about their world and how desolate it was (200 years in the future)?’ And one person said, ‘Breaking the fourth wall!’ That’s a fourth grade student telling me that they were breaking the fourth wall, which is absolutely true. But unless you’re a theater student, or been exposed to the arts education, you wouldn’t know that. How do you know as a fourth grade student that they were breaking the fourth wall, meaning talking to the audience and bringing them into the performance itself?  That goes back to Miami Dade County Public Schools Arts in Education. They’re doing the work and it’s working, that’s that.”

Cidel described “The Busy Bees’ Great Adventure,” behind the scenes process, “We’re in build mode, the blocking, building the set design, the lighting design. We’re going to really try to involve a lot of technology in this particular performance. This is a full musical. We are looking for actors to sing and dance and act –  for Miami artists to sell what they have and we know that all the talent is here.”

Cidel summed up the importance to her of directing this show, “I really think this is a cumulative moment, this is one of the things that I’m most proud of, to be able to direct something at this magnitude with the third largest performing arts center in the country, with Miami artists is magical to me. Because it’s a part of who I am as a part of why I’m still here.”

For additional information:

Visit arshtcenter.org/education or email education@arshtcenter.org. 

The Busy Bees is offered directly to schools through MDCPS. No public performances at this time, although that is possible.

Auditions: June 26 and June 27 at 4pm.  Please call 786-468-2287 or email education@arshtcenter.org for an audition appointment. Offices are open from Monday-Friday, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM

For anyone interested in learning about upcoming family-friendly events at the Arsht Center, sign up for the Arsht e-mail list.

THE BUSY BEES’ GREAT ADVENTURE is made possible with the support of The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation at The Miami Foundation, Cornelia T. Bailey Foundation, Anthony R. Abraham Foundation, MONAT Gratitude Foundation and Ocean Reef Community Foundation.

 

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