Vanguard
The company of “Children’s Letters to God” performs. COURTESY JESSICA SPORN

Vanguard Theater Black & White gala
Saturday, Nov. 3, 7 p.m.
The Loft, 8 Lackawanna Plaza
For tickets, visit tinyurl/yc2fy3h9 or email vanguardtheatercompany.sporn@gmail.com.
For more information on Vanguard Theater Company, visit vanguardtheatercompany.org.

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

Many arts organizations host highly-priced galas to raise money and promote their missions.

It’s less common for one arts organization to honor another. After all, the pool of funds is limited, and to some extent, all nonprofits seek money from the same pool.

Vanguard Theater Company’s Black & White Gala on Nov. 3 honors five organizations with which it has collaborated over the past year: TeeRico by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Montclair Film, the GrassROOTS Community Foundation, First Congregational Church and Nassan’s Place.

It’s natural for VTC to partner in this way, said Vanguard General Manager Jessica Sporn.

Vanguard
JESSICA SPORN

“We’re dedicated to diversity, and giving back to the community,” she said.

Vanguard, founded in 2015, names its central mission “D.R.E.A.M.,” standing for “Diversity, Reciprocity, Awareness and Mentorship.”

All of the organizations being honored fit into that mission, Sporn said.

VTC is a company formed “to address the lack of diversity in casting and mentorship opportunities, and education opportunities for kids of color, and kids in underserved communities,” she explained. Janeece Freeman Clark, one of its founders, along with actor-educator Daryl Stewart, was clear that it was not meant to be an all-Black company, but for everyone: “It’s a beautiful rainbow of people,” Sporn said.

The Gala will include an auction that includes house seats for “Hamilton,” “Frozen” and “The Lion King,” complete with backstage tours; items autographed by Lin-Manuel Miranda; and other items. There will be presentations honoring the organizations and a performance, followed by a dance party.

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READ: JESSICA SPORN DESIGN USED BY LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA

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VTC produces one main stage show every year, and three educational programs. The children range from elementary school through college, and the program has about 150 people enrolled, Sporn said.

Other programs include an annual Broadway mentorship, which pairs young people with actors on Broadway in a one-on-one relationship culminating in a cabaret, and a summer stock sleepaway camp in Montvale.

Last year, VTC brought a musical (“Children’s Letters to God”) to New York City for the first time, and received a grant from New Jersey State Council on the Arts to expand that program. VTC toured the show to senior homes and other communities.

Some of the leads from “Children’s Letters to God” will perform at the Gala.

Vanguard has no bricks-and-mortar home, but is a traveling company. It has performed at the South Orange Middle School, at the Burgdorff Center in Maplewood, at the United Way building during the Montclair Arts Alliance’s first Arts Festival, as well as in New York. They rehearse in the Montclair Cooperative School.

Shows slated for this year include “Runaways,” a senior teen show slated to be performed in New York City in January; a middle school group production of “A Little Princess” in New York City in May, and “The Lion King Jr.” for children in grades 2-6 in South Orange in January. One of the teaching artists is on Broadway in “The Lion King” now, Sporn said.

This year’s mainstage show will be Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights,” Sporn said.

The connection with TeeRico, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s T-shirt company, came through Sporn: shortly after the 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sporn, a visual artist, created a piece of art and quoted some of the sonnet Miranda read at the Tony Awards.

“There were a lot of comments. People wanted to buy it,” Sporn said. “[Miranda’s] brother-in-law reached out. At first I was really scared of a cease-and-desist letter. But he said Lin had loved the artwork, and they were ready to launch merchandise at TeeRico, would I be interested in reworking the design?”

Since then, she has also designed a T-shirt to raise funds for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

Luis Crespo and Luz Miranda Crespo will be at the Gala, she said.

TeeRico and the other organizations honored by VTC are all “raising awareness about issues of our time, in very different ways,” Sporn said. “Diversity takes work.”

That’s what the D.R.E.A.M. is about.