CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? Emerging from Pandemic Isolation, Youth Artists Lift Their Voices in Showcase of Talent

In the spring of 2020, as the world retreated into lockdowns, a local open mic café teen program, called Can You Hear Me Now?, had to shut down its exciting teen talent showcase scheduled for late March of 2020.  Many of these teen artists continued to work on their original material in the isolation of the pandemic. 

Starting in September of 2021 about 25 young people returned to the Gloria J. Parks Community Center on Main Street to share with each other their original rap, rhythms, songs, and dance, and to prepare for a return to the stage. 

The work led to a fourth annual Can You Hear Me Now? showcase performance on Monday, December 13 at 7:00 p.m. at the Burchfield Penney Arts Center Auditorium, 1300 Elmwood Avenue, next door to Buffalo State College. The performance featured nine amazingly talented  teen performers presenting original work for over 90  exciting  minutes.  Over 80 people attended and responded enthusiastically to these young artists’ passion and talent.

Talented Participants of   Can You Hear Me Now at Burchfield Penney Arts Center images by Street Legacy Photos Darvin Adams

Can You Hear Me Now? is an open mic program that meets Monday evenings and Saturday afternoons for 10 weeks to empower young performers to transition from performing covers of commercial songs to developing original poetry, rap, and movement.  These young people come from public and charter schools around Buffalo.  Although there are a few small venues that have opened in recent years that occasionally accommodate youth under 21 for open mics, there are very few spaces where teens can connect with their peers, while being challenged to deepen and refine their work.

The program was directed by Da’Von McCune, rap artist and owner of D Real McCoy Entertainment and Ashley Watson, a Marriage and Family Counselor, and owner of # Real Talk, a social emotional learning curriculum for youth. Michael Tritto, the Associate Director at Gloria J. Parks Community Center provided administrative support. This adult team created a safe space for youth to enjoy each other’s company over dinner, while challenging themselves to express what really matters to them through their art forms. 

This was not just a youth social outlet.  This was an artistic laboratory, a personal development curriculum, and youth café wrapped into one. The teens began each Monday evening with an interdisciplinary workshop reflecting on how they reveal themselves in the way they present themselves.  This is called #REALTALK.  After sharing a delicious catered dinner, the evening shifted to an open mic format with young artists presenting their original performances and then getting performance notes from their peers and adult teaching artists. On Saturday afternoons, the most serious of these teens met to learn how to organize, refine, and promote a performance event. The event was planned, managed, and hosted by youth leaders. 

The program seeks to build transferable skills that empower young artists to create opportunities to work professionally, first locally and perhaps beyond. Presenting their feelings and original ideas through performing arts is highly motivational.  The youth were keyed up with enthusiasm having completed auditions to make it into the showcase.    

The performers were   paid from the proceeds for the performance, to get a taste of being treated as professionals. 

The artistic team challenged these young people to hone their skills in public relations to learn how to produce their own public performance.

This event was produced by the University District Community Development Association (UDCDA), a non-profit agency offering youth, senior citizen, and adult programs at the Gloria J. Parks Community Center, 3242 Main Street and housing and business development services at 995 Kensington Avenue.

This program is funded by generous grants from the Erie County Youth Bureau and the First Niagara Foundation. Burchfield Penney Arts Center co-sponsored the showcase event last month.

( Images by Street Legacy Photos )