Media Unit to tell Westside Story

Winning a specially created award for “Risk Taking in Performance” at the 2012 CNY Arts Harms Festival Ana-rachel Richardson’s award winning portrayal of the aging Helen Willis in last year’s Angels with Broken Wings tour (photo by Ben Cleeton). let Media Unit members know they were on the right path in their unconventional approach to teen drama presentation. Taking it one step further for this year’s festival, they took pieces from several of their original music theater performances and fused them into a narrative exploring ways teens deal with loss. That effort won them first place in the Community Theater division.

In the April competition, Media Unit members swept the awards. Ana-rachel Richardson’s portrayal of the aging Helen Willis—from last summer’s Angels with Broken Wings: Open Your Hearts to the Arts—won her Best Female Actor for the second year in a row. Nicholas Cocks was named Best Male Actor. George Stroman was cited for Best Lights and Sound. A specially created award named Chrissy Gerace “Fierce Guitar.” 

They didn’t have to wait long for the next opportunity to apply their unique approach to performing on topics of teen concern. In a speech announcing his candidacy for Syracuse School Board on the near Westside, Taino Palermo had some kind words for the Media Unit. After the speech some of the leaders from the Hispanic community inquired about the possibility of collaborating on the Unit’s coming summer tour. With the issues of race and gangs and teen violence so current, West Side Story immediately came to mind.

With significant help from Palermo, and folks from la Casita and CorcoranHigh School, Latina and Latino teens were recruited, interviewed and auditioned. Workshops conducted by Vladimir Vasyagin, James Patterson and Jackie Warren-Moore stressed narrative movement, harmony and character development. The eight member cast began scripting a Jets vs. Sharks conflict, while Cocks and Gerace worked on the music. Richardson took on the role of narrator for this summer’s city park audiences.

“When Walt came to me with the idea of an adaptation of the West Side Story to our Syracuse West Side, I was hooked,” Tere Paniagua told the Post Standard. Paniagua is executive director of cultural engagement for the Syracuse Hispanic Community at SyracuseUniversity. She will work with the language of the script to reflect a multi-cultural tone. Scripting contributions were also received from residents of the JusticeCenter and the DowntownYMCAYoungAuthorsAcademy.

Performance Schedule for Angles with Broken Wings: a Westside Story in collaboration with the Syracuse Department of Parks, Recreation and Youth Programs – All performances are at 1:00 p.m. Free and open to the public for details about where and when click on this link:

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