News / USA

Teen Actors Make Portraits Come Alive

Unique summer job has students portraying historical figures

Taylor Marsh performs for visitors at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Taylor Marsh performs for visitors at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Multimedia

Susan Logue

Teenagers are making portraits come alive this summer at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., this summer.  

They put on makeup and make final alterations to their costumes. It’s like being backstage in a theater, but in this case the stage is the museum itself.  

Dressed in a blue velvet suit and carrying a cane, just like the woman in the portrait behind her, Taylor Marsh looks like a younger version of educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune.

She's one of 10 students participating in "Portraits Alive!" at the National Portrait Gallery. Like most of the students, she came to the program because she's interested in theater.

Taylor Marsh performing as educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Taylor Marsh performing as educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

“I had no idea what this program was going to be about,” says Marsh. She was told they would be doing tours of the museum, but the tours they give rely on acting skills.

“I look for students who are interested in the performing arts,” says Geri Provost Lyons, who is in charge of the program.

“They choose a portrait, and they do research on the people that are in these portraits, and then they perform in costume a monologue which they have written.”

Students spend the first four weeks preparing, then perfecting and rehearsing their monologues in front of each other.  

“Writing the monologue was the hardest part,” Marsh says.  She was one of the few students who didn’t pick an entertainer or movie star.

Bethune was born in 1875, just a decade after the end of slavery. She founded a school for African American girls in 1904 and organized the National Council of Negro Women in 1932.  In 1936, she became an adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“It wasn’t really the occupation I thought of, it was more the person in general,” says Marsh. “She was a strong woman, she had a lot of things going for her, and I wanted someone who was headstrong.”  

Sydney Hall chose Hollywood star Katharine Hepburn, who died in 2003.  “I didn’t know anything about Katharine Hepburn. I was just passing her portrait and I thought she looked very angelic in it, and she looked very cool.”  

Hall says the program has had an impact on her. “I don’t spend a lot of time in museums.  DC born and raised and I’ve been to all the museums, but now I’m actually taking the time to learn.”

Rashawn Alexander portrayed Latin music star Selena, who was murdered by a fan in 1995 at the age of 23. She was an icon for young people, and Alexander was impressed by how she gave back to the community, offering a free concert to students who improved their grades.

Student actress Rashawn Alexander portrays Latin music star Selena, who was murdered by a fan in 1995.
Student actress Rashawn Alexander portrays Latin music star Selena, who was murdered by a fan in 1995.

“I picked her because me and her have a lot in common," says Alexander. "We both want to see kids do well in our community.”

Alexander says she, too, now takes time to read about the art work in the galleries, instead of just glancing at it.

Geri Provost Lyons says that’s true of a lot of the students in the program. “They will take time to go to different museums and learn more and want to see more.”

And that, she says, is one of the goals. As for the students, it doesn't hurt that they get paid for the performances - $7.25 an hour.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs