The New McCree Theatre is a vibrant piece of the Flint local arts scene, with shows running from October through May. Performances express African American Culture and history, and programs offer arts education for Flint area youth. Executive Director Charles H. Winfrey, 74, has been with The New McCree since its inception in 2004., “Theatre was something that I fell into,” Winfrey recalls, “but having fell, I fell in love.” When he took the position around 13 years ago, he had not yet experienced the impactful energy that emanates from the McCree stage. He remembers, “even during rehearsals, the energy was something else – and I just got hooked.”
Winfrey says the mission of The New McCree is “to give an authentic representation of African American history and cultural heritage.” This can be seen in the past season’s lineup which included “Detroit ’67” which their website calls, “a powerful play that unfolds an explosive moment in our history – the race riots that ravaged the city of Detroit in 1967,” along with the musical adventure, “The Wiz” – a popular urban-reimagining of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” that features an entirely African American cast.
“The arts promote civility and appeal to
the positive side of our humanity.”
During the summer, The New McCree Theatre is busy planning and marketing for the upcoming season beginning in October. They also use the summer months to take their shows on the road and offer enrichment activities for the theatre group. Winfrey explains that they are currently working to bring their final show of 2016/2017 “Needle in a Haystack: The Story of the Velvelettes” to the Kalamazoo area.
Every two years, The New McCree also participates in the National Black Theatre Festival, which takes place in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. At the end of July, a busload of people from McCree will travel there for the week-long event. “They have an opportunity to partake in some 35 productions from Afro-centric theatres all over the country – so it’s quite an experience,” Winfrey smiles.
Bringing Theatre to Greater Flint Schools
Throughout the school year, The New McCree Theatre actively engages students through both their anti-violence play, “Graffiti Chronicles,” and their Arts in Academia program, which brings theatre, music and movement workshops to area youth. These programs introduce young people to theatre, giving them an opportunity to experience the energy of the dramatic arts and inviting them to get involved. “The kids are very good audiences,” Winfrey says, “better than adults, because they tend to listen closely and can really get into the action taking place on stage.”
Winfrey says “Graffiti Chronicles” was particularly fun to put together. “We involved a focus group of kids to help craft elements of the script,” he explains. The play evolves every year, based on feedback they receive from the student audience, which helps to keep the play effective and relevant. There are two versions of “Graffiti Chronicles” depending on how much time the school has to produce it. “In the longform, we deal with a number of issues, from violence and substance abuse to police profiling,” Winfrey adds. The shortened version, which usually tours the area schools, focuses on peer resistance, bullying, and conflict resolution in order to teach skills that can reduce the occurrence of violent actions. Most works are performed in The New McCree Theatre, and Winfrey prefers that, because it offers students the real theatre experience. But, they also travel to schools, understanding that it can be hard to afford bussing. “If they cannot afford it, we will bring it to them,” he says. According to Winfrey, their goal is to perform before at least 2,000 students each year and after performing for six schools in the past year, they were really close to reaching that number.
McCree’s Arts in Academia allows schools to engage with in-school arts programs during the school day, and they also work with YouthQuest – the initiative operated by the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce to involve kids in free, after-school art activities. This past school year, McCree’s primary client was Northridge Academy. They brought “dance, drama and music during the school day throughout the whole school year,” Winfrey explains. The New Standard Academy, which shares a building with McCree, also benefits from the arts programs McCree offers during the school year.
Moving into the 2017/2018 season, Winfrey’s greatest hope is, “to see all of these theatre seats filled for every performance, and that people will benefit from what we do.” He has witnessed the benefit for both the local actors who have the chance to be a part of live theatre, as well as the audiences. Winfrey hopes that the theatre will continue to teach and entertain actors and audiences, alike. “I hope that we are doing something that is thought-provoking and will stimulate some action,” he shares.
“The arts promote civility and appeal to the positive side of our humanity,” Winfrey adds. “It takes away the hard edge, softens the harsh realities of everyday life.” The New McCree is always looking for actors, musicians and others to join them. They also count on the audiences to attend performances. “Without the audience, there is no theatre,” Winfrey states. If you are interested in becoming part of The New McCree Theatre, would like to know about upcoming shows, view the schedule and purchase tickets, or have your school involved in programs during the 2017/2018 school year, visit thenewmccreetheatre.com.