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Janeece Freeman-Clark, Vanguard Theater Company Artistic Director, rehearsing “Mama Who Bore Me” on Saturday, May 5, in her South Orange home On May 12th, Mother’s Day Eve, Vanguard Theater Company will host a benefit, “Sing For Our Lives.”
ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

Sing for Our Lives
Benefit to raise awareness and funds for gun violence prevention

Hosted by Vanguard Theater Company

Saturday, May 12, 8 p.m.
First Congregational Church
40 South Fullerton Ave.

Vanguard Theater Company, New Jersey Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Students Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety

Vanguardtheatercompany.org

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

Sahirah Johnson, a musical theater teacher in Newark, knows the fear of gun violence too well.

As a performing arts teacher at Link Community Charter School in Newark, a middle school, she is saddened that students cannot play outside during recess.

“There was a shootout in an apartment building that was adjacent to our school,” she said.

Johnson will perform at “Sing for our Lives” benefit on Saturday, May 12. The event, hosted by Vanguard Theater Company, is co-sponsored by Moms Demand Action for Gun

SAHIRAH JOHNSON

Sense in America, Students Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety, who are the beneficiaries of the event.

She will sing “Mama Will Provide” from the Broadway hit “Once on this Island” and “I Know Where I’ve Been” from “Hairspray.”

To sing for Moms Demand Action is meaningful for Johnson: she is a mom of two children in their ’20s and one in fourth grade, and says that’s why it’s particularly important for her to be part of this benefit with its goal of raising awareness and funds for gun violence prevention.

And it’s for her children at Link as well.

She wishes the community were more aware of the dangers, and there was more community presence in the area where she teaches.

As a native Newarker, she finds the lack of involvement an issue. “My concern has always even been for my own children, my son, traveling home from college, coming from downtown… it’s always that worry, coming from deep within. I do know you can’t live your life by worrying all the time, but it is real,” she said.

“Sing for your Life” takes place on Mother’s Day Eve, and will include storytelling, spoken word poetry, choral performances and other live music.

It will also include scenes from theater, specifically scenes from #CodeRed, a collection of short plays about gun violence in schools. The collection was staged by Montclair High School students in West Orange’s Luna Stage last month.

Princess Sabaroche and Elijah Brown, who spoke at Newark’s March for Our Lives, will appear, as well as students from Rutgers University and Broadway performers. 

Jessica Sporn, a Montclair resident who, with Janeece Freeman-Clark, manages Vanguard Theater, founded in 2015, says the idea for the Benefit came about when she ran into Elisa Van Duyne at a Moms Demand Action meeting in Montclair’s First Congregational Church not long after the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida. Van Duyne has performed on Broadway in “110 in the Shade” with Audra McDonald and “Finian’s Rainbow,” among others. She also participates in Vanguard’s “Broadway Buddy” mentoring program, which pairs children aged 12-22 with Broadway performers, culminating in a performance at the South Orange Performing Arts Center.

At the meeting at FCC, Sporn said, Moms Demand Action asked if anyone had ideas for fundraisers.

“Elisa and I looked at each other,” Sporn recalled with a laugh.

Sporn will sing “Big Spender” with Van Duyne and with Doreen Oliver. Nine-year-old Jada

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JESSICA SPORN

Clark will perform a monologue, a choir from East Orange’s Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts will perform a medley from “Into the Woods,” and teenagers who perform with Vanguard will sing “Mama Who Bore Me” from “Spring Awakening.”

“Sing for Our Lives” will focus on all forms of gun violence, including school shootings but not limited to that, Sporn said. Diversity is very important to Vanguard, so it’s important to include material that reflects the volume of gun violence in communities of color.

One of the scenes that will be performed reflects gun violence in black neighborhoods: a scene from Sahirah Johnson’s play “Letting Go.”

“The play that I wrote is about a young girl whose mother is really overprotective, but only because she feared her living in an urban environment and being a victim of gun violence,” she said. For Johnson, awareness, as a citizen, a teacher, and a parent is what the benefit is about, to “try to make other people aware, by using my craft.”

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