All Walks of Life (AWOL) started in 1997 as a simple gathering of poets, musicians, and MCs at Savannah State University. Incorporated as a non-profit in 2004, the organization provides arts and technical education for at- risk youth, while striving to reach their goal of developing youth in an environment that encourages respect, education, creativity, and especially, nonviolence.
This year marks the fifth year of the performance of a hip-hop play. This year, the show's title, Choices -- a hip hop adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet -- also indicates the theme that life is all about what we make of it.
"This year AWOL has taken it to another level," says AWOL President DaVena Jordan. "Typically, we've done what we call, the hip-hop history productions, and when we first started, they were basically plays that used a lot of music to tell the history of the genre."
That message molded itself into using the hip-hop medium as a way to drive a historical message, whether it is about Griots from Africa or the Harlem Renaissance, like last year's show, she says.
"We've really turned the bend and started doing some other things and taking our theatre program to the next level," Jordan says.
"So, my expectations for this performance of Choices is for them to perform this well and do even better when they perform this show in Spanish for the Savannah Urban Arts Festival in April."
The show's director, Lakesha Green, also has high expectations.
"I think this is going to be a great show and very moving. I feel that the title alone indicates the theme," she says.
"Life is full of choices; we all have to make them. So, let's all try to make the right ones. The impact of this theme on the kids has been captivating. I expect it to be a great show."
Music has inspired not only the delivery of the play, but also it's creation. Green explains how she came up with the idea of performing Choices this year:
"I am a traveler; I love to travel. I am often influenced by music, and I was listening to Alicia Keys's ‘As I Am', which is now the intro song for the play," she says.
"I took different pieces of the song and wanted to incorporate them into a play. I wanted the play this year to be something different. The idea of using the love story of Romeo and Juliet came to me, in my car, riding; it all just came to me."
Autumn Mitchell, playing the role of Juliet, speaks of her experiences with the production of the play:
"Practice is every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. But, I go home and go over my lines in the mirror because if you only practice at rehearsal, then you won't grow and develop," says Mitchell.
"You also have to practice within yourself, like practicing in the mirror, so you can see yourself saying the lines and get your mannerisms right," she says. "We've been practicing for this show since September. I found out that I had the part of Juliet in November. Even though it was a competition to get the part, at the end of the day, it's still fun."
Mitchell has been involved with AWOL for two years, and Choices will be her second theatre performance with AWOL.
"I can relate to the character of Juliet," she says. "That really helps me when I'm performing because I can think how Juliette would think and how I would think in a certain situation."
Jason Forrester, playing the role of Romeo, explains his experiences in preparing for the production:
"At our practices, we learn about stage directions, Shakespeare, and pretty much the basics of acting. After the first few weeks, we applied everything, all the basics that we learned," he says.
This is Forrester's first year involved with AWOL and his first theatre performance.
"I auditioned after I saw a flyer in my language arts class. I decided that I was going to go audition. It was my first audition ever. I was so scared," Forrester remembers.
"Being involved with AWOL has helped me overall as a performer. I've learned a lot," he says.
The role of Pastor Lawrence is being played by Devan Cokley.
"Practice for me is an everyday thing, even when I'm not in rehearsal. You still have to practice outside of rehearsal so that when you do have rehearsal, you can be up to par and better that what you were before. It's an everyday process," Cokley says.
Like Forrester, this is Cokley's first big performance with AWOL. "My character is the pastor, and when I was growing up, my granddaddy was a pastor. So, this hits close to home for me. I sang a church song at my audition."
Amber Lee acts as a poet, or narrator, for the play. "It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to produce something like this. It is fun, though. The end result will be really great," Lee comments.
Lee has been a member of AWOL for five years. She's also been involved with the film and photography program and the sound design program.
Her role as a poet "delivers the parts of the story that you might not get from the actors or dancers through my poems," she says.
When asked to explain the good that AWOL does for the children involved, Jordan says, "This could take forever."
Green comments on her favorite part of working with AWOL:
"One of the advantages of working with AWOL is that I have the opportunity to have a slice of their lives. I get to watch them grow, from when I first got them at auditions to now," she says.
"I call them young professionals because that's how I train them, as young professionals. I believe that students act the way you treat them. If you treat them as young professionals, they will act as young professionals."
Mitchell says, "I love being in AWOL. The name ‘All Walks of Life', it's true in what it says because you do find people from all walks of life. You can't get this anywhere else.,"
"I love the unity," echoes Forrester. "AWOL is just like a huge family. It's not like some places where you are all learning together, but you're not together. Here, we're all together."
Lee also has positive things to say about AWOL.
"It's like a home away from home for me. I used to be really quiet, before I joined AWOL. You would never know it now, unless I told you. I was literally boxed in. AWOL brought me out. That has helped me in school, the outside world, everywhere," she explains.
When: Feb. 5-6 at 7 p.m.
Where: Lucas Theatre
Cost: $20; fifty percent of the proceeds from Friday's show goes to a Haiti relief fund