MONTCLAIR, NJ — On Saturday, March 30, at 8 p.m., Vanguard Theater Company will present a concert version of the musical “Runaways” to raise awareness about youth homelessness. The First Congregational Church in Montclair, 40 S. Fullerton Ave., will host the concert, which Vanguard presents in partnership with Covenant House, Toni’s Kitchen, the Human Needs Food Pantry, Montclair Film and other Essex County partners. Admission is by a suggested donation of $10 plus a can or box of food.
In January 2019, Vanguard Theater Company presented “Runaways” to four sold-out audiences at the American Theater of Actors in New York City. “Runaways,” a musical collage about young people estranged from their families, was created by Elizabeth Swados from workshops she conducted with real-life runaways in the late 1970s.
Vanguard’s production of “Runaways” is part of a special program called DREAM VTC, made possible in part by grants from the New Jersey Council on the Arts, and TeeRico by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Vanguard was able to create special opportunities to help the cast go deeper into their characters. VTC arranged to have a visit to the cast from a young man who had previously found shelter at Covenant House, an organization that, for more than four decades, has helped transform and save the lives of more than a million homeless, runaway and trafficked young people.
Hearing his story, and reading the stories of more than 25 homeless youth in a photo and biography gallery Vanguard created, affected the cast deeply. The young actors decided to continue raising awareness about at-risk youth, and reached out to Covenant House about hosting a sleep-out in solidarity with, and to raise awareness about, homeless teens. The sleepout will take place on the front lawn of the FCC after the concert on March 30.
“After inhabiting these characters through rehearsals and the performances, and living their stories of homelessness, substance abuse, hunger and more, we knew we could not stop at just singing about it,” said Jordan Muhammad, one of the cast members who has become an ambassador for the cast to Covenant House.
“We could not have picked a more open, honest, inclusive and loving group of teens,” show director and Vanguard Artistic Director Janeece Freeman Clark. “They realize the power theater has to shine light on important issues and have begun their journey as artist citizens. My hope is that they will carry this experience with them in their future, that they will continue to find the underlying message, find causes to align with, and use their art to make a difference.”
“We are presenting this concert version of ‘Runaways’ to draw attention not just to homelessness in Essex County, but also to the many organizations, like Covenant House and Toni’s Kitchen, that are trying to help,” Vanguard Managing Director Jessica Sporn said. “People don’t realize that Essex County has the highest rate of homeless people in all of New Jersey. We’re here to draw attention to that, and also to the different organizations providing shelter, food, and other resources.”
Tickets and more information available at https://vanguardtheatercompany.org.
Photos Courtesy of Jessica Sporn