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Class of 2019: Arts and City Shape Playwright and Actress

Incoming first-year student Angela Bey is not only a talented playwright and performer, but she has played a different role –lobbying for the arts.

As the recipient of Ursinus’s first scholarship for excellence in theater, she brings a distinct experience to the Ursinus theater department. (Scholarships in dance and music also were recently awarded.) This summer she saw her original play produced at the National Constitution Center. Schooled in writing plays through her participation with Philadelphia Young Playwrights organization, she submitted a play to the center’s first Founding Freedoms Essay & Playwriting Contest, sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation. Bey’s play imagines how Elizabeth Willing Powel and the citizens of Philadelphia reacted to Benjamin Franklin’s remark that it is the citizens who are responsible for upholding the principles of the new government. The play, “Com[promising] Future,” was directed by Philadelphia Young Playwrights director David O’Connor.

Bey said her starting point was that Powel, a social figure in colonial Philadelphia, reportedly asked Franklin, “What kind of government have you given us?” to which he is said to have replied, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” Bey said that a country unsure of its future reminded her of students unsure of their futures, and she framed the play with second semester, high-school seniors cramming for a history final.

The Constitution Center play was the result of a lot of hard work, Bey said.  “There were a lot of revisions as we worked, but I am very proud of what was put up on stage.” She learned of the competition in early April, and by late spring was working with designers, actors and the director. “We personalized the roles, tailored theatrical conventions, and made other creative changes for the betterment of the script and production as a whole,” she said. “Overall, the experience was extremely valuable for me as a theater artist and as a writer.”

A voice of ‘clarity and sensitivity’

Bey’s future is promising, according to the Young Playwrights executive director Glenn Knapp. “I can’t say enough good things about her,” he said. Bey served on the organization’s Youth Council and was one of five students selected for its Paula Vogel Mentors Program, which honors playwright Paula Vogel. As part of that program, she was personally mentored by Tony Award recipient and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes.

Knapp said he was impressed with her project, which brought up issues of race and class. “She does this beautifully with her writing,” he said, adding that her voice has clarity and sensitivity. “She will bring a lot of talent to whatever she does. It was our privilege and pleasure to produce her work.”

Bey is excited about the possibilities that college holds for her. “My parents thought NYU, but I was drawn to Ursinus because I could explore writing, theater, and the humanities and not sacrifice one for the other. The scholarship was the financial sway.”

Coincidentally, during her junior year in high school, she met Ursinus alumna Candace Thomas ’05, a Philadelphia actress, who performed  “Pedestals”, her monologue about racism in private schools, in the Philadelphia Playwrights Young Voices Monologue Festival. “The Ursinus community was another sway,” said Bey, who plans to study theater, creative writing and Africana studies.

Shaping the city, shaped by the city

Recently the Philadelphia Voice named her one of “18 Young Philadelphians Shaping the City’s future.” Among her accomplishments, Bey starred as Maureen in “Rent” and Leading Player in “Pippin” during her high school career, and also took part in The Pennsylvania Ballet’s Nutcracker, the Philadelphia Opera Company’s “Tosca,” and the national tour of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Whistle Down the Wind.” She has also won awards in playwriting and acting from organizations such as Cappies, Scholastic, Writopia and others. Her plays have been performed at the Interact Theater and Asian Arts Initiative. In addition, she will appear in a local, independent film, Selah and the Spades.

In turn, Philadelphia has shaped her. Bey grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and left public education to attend Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School and, later, Friends Select. “My neighborhood shaped me,” she said, “but I’ve always felt disconnected. It’s hard to balance, wanting to break outside of  familiar territory to pursue opportunities on the other side of the tracks - the ‘big’ city, higher education, the arts. I feel like a girl of two different worlds, but I am learning to be proud of both places.”

She found her niche in the arts community of playwrights and artists. “They helped me to understand that it is ok to feel divided,” she explained.  “No one side should be valued over the other”.

Because of the arts’ highly positive influence on her life, she testified for arts funding at a City Council meeting this past June when she learned that the budget for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund was in danger of being cut.

She made a “passionate speech,” saying, in part: “It is easy to undermine the impact of the arts. It is easy to cut arts funding from schools with students full of potential, talent, and passion outside of traditional academic subjects. It is not easy to do so when I stand before you with undeniable proof that the arts undeniably matter. We are not only being deprived of pens, paints, and musical instruments. It is much deeper than that. We are also being deprived of the opportunity to act on our potential as the upcoming, civically-engaged, cultured leaders of this city.”

Her passion and delivery paid off. The budget was not cut.