Gospel Voices of OC: Kids Camps Start Soon
By Dianne Anderson
Hundreds ventured out and packed the house for a rich collaboration of creative energy this month to understand what Juneteenth is all about, and how faith made it happen.
At the center, the church proved a fitting backdrop as it was the only place where Blacks were historically allowed to gather, create, sing, dance, hold their dignity and keep the faith.
Debora Wondercheck said the Gospel Voices of Orange County concert began with her vision to honor Black accomplishments through the ages, and an artistic lens of modern day gospel music.
They joined forces with local choirs, a Black and Brown orchestra, a jazz band, a whole rhythm section, spoken word, a video presentation, touching on all aspects of performing arts.
“I wanted to give honor to our ancestors and through slavery, the faith that they had to believe things would change. If it wasn’t for our faith as a people in God, we wouldn’t have had the hope to believe things would change, or we could get through that,” said Wondercheck, founder and CEO of Arts & Learning Conservatory in Costa Mesa.
Since October, they had all been meeting, talking logistics with a scriptwriter to go with the music so it flowed effortlessly. The event was held at Chapman University’s Musco Center for the Arts.
Wondercheck said their production manager Bruce Cecil joined the project shortly after doing the academy awards and came out to run the show.
“We wanted the choir to be big. It was a labor of love,” she said, adding that they also gave a nod to the youth featured in the event. At one point, there were over 100 performing on stage, and the quality was through the roof.
She commended their team of 12 with three choir directors and members from Orange County Black megachurches, including choir directors that included Karen Allen-Reid of Christ Our Redeemer; Dwayne Roberts of Second Baptist Church; and Minister of Music Darlene Futrel and Sonya Griffin of Friendship Baptist Church. Also participating was Rev. Chinetta Goodjoin’s New Hope Presbyterian Church, as well as other churches.
“The music presented, whether it was an old spiritual, we made sure what was presented was all composed and written by African Americans. Even the production team, there were 12 of us, were all African American,” she said.
Although it was educational, it was entertaining, and she said the people left a bit more enlightened. Another reason for her vision was to bridge the Black community, especially in Orange County.
“We’re scattered all over the place. You have racial tension going on, and I thought we’ve got to do something that will bring us together to celebrate the accomplishment that is taking place, celebrating who we are as a people,” she said.
The event drew nearly 900 people, with about 60% Black participants, and a diverse array of others.
Two months ago, she received the California Legislative Assembly Woman of the Year award for the work they’re doing in keeping arts in the schools. The City of Costa Mesa honored her with Women of the Year recognition last month.
Before founding the conservatory 17 years ago, Wondercheck was a master school teacher in the Irvine School District for 10 years, and a cellist and conducting the orchestra with student teachers working under her in string pedagogy.
Today, her programming serves about 1,700 students a year. Graduates from her program also get hands-on with production, and private lessons for at least four years. They are lined up with Chapman University, which offers scholarships for her students to get into the arts, or other fields. UCI also has a scholarship set aside for her students.
In pulling the recent concert together, the widespread recognition was unexpected. She feels it was something the community has been waiting for, and social connectedness they haven’t felt in a long time.
Coming up from July 11 through July 29, her “Westside Story” camp for teens ages 13 through 18 runs from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and also includes two evening performances. She said with the Westside Story, they do need many more boys in the cast.
From July 25 through August 5, “Annie” camp for kids ages 5 to 12 running from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. for two weeks, and also features two event performances.
“We audition every child, whether they know something about theater or not, and we place them,” she said. “We get these kids away off their phones because they will not be doing that here.”
Scholarships are available for students in need. The bulk of the full-day camp is about honing kids’ creativity and acting skills. Everyone who signs up has a part to learn, and nobody is cut.
“It costs to put on productions for sure, but if your child is talented let us know what you can afford. We have people that can underwrite for students that want to be here,” she said.
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