Vanguard Theater Company is partnering with Montclair Film, the Human Needs Food Pantry, Toni’s Kitchen, and Covenant House to present a concert version of “Runaways,” to raise awareness about and funds for homeless youth on Saturday, March 30, 8 p.m. at the First Congregational Church in Montclair. Following the concert, the cast will hold a sleep-out on the Church’s front lawn in solidarity with homeless teens. This collaboration is made possible, in part, by generous grants from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and TeeRico by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
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 (video clip here). 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. Because of their generosity, Vanguard was able to create special opportunities to help the cast go deeper into their characters. VTC arranged to have a young man visit the cast 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 over 25 homeless youth in a photo and biography gallery Vanguard created, affected the Runaways’ 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.
Says Runaways director and Vanguard Artistic Director Janeece Freeman Clark about the cast’s initiative, “We could not have picked a more open, honest, inclusive, and loving group of teens. 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,” says Managing Director Jessica Sporn. “People don’t realize that Essex County has the highest rate of homeless people in all of NJ. We’re here to draw attention to that, and also to the different organizations providing shelter, food, and other resources.”