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Paid program introduces young minorities to the arts

Arsht Center Theater Apprentices (from left) Andre Best, Kamari Rodriguez, Ayana Vail, Rafael Otero and Nathan Reid.
Arsht Center Theater Apprentices (from left) Andre Best, Kamari Rodriguez, Ayana Vail, Rafael Otero and Nathan Reid. (Kimba King)

MIAMI – Adrienne Arsht Center apprentice Ayana Veil says she feels so fortunate to be in an environment that both facilitates technical theater education and offers great support.

Veil is one of five current Arsht Center apprentices, all Miami natives and minorities, who spent more than 5,500 hours working alongside and learning from the Arsht Center’s production professionals.

Launched in 2018, the Arsht Center’s Technical Theater Apprenticeship Program was designed to introduce residents of Miami-Dade County, ages 18-24 from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented communities, to a professional career in technical theater. It is a paid, three-year program, running annually from October to July.

“The cycle of inequitable access to sustainable wages can be broken with greater access to training and lucrative careers,” said Arsht Center director of production Curtis Hodge. “The Arsht Center’s Technical Theater Apprentice program provides classroom and on-the-job experience needed to propel these young professionals toward a career in entertainment, but also gives them the necessary life skills to thrive in today’s world.”

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the Arsht Center to completely shut its doors for a period of time and cancel more than 200 shows, the apprentices continued to earn a wage while attending virtual workshops offered by nationally recognized theatrical organizations and vendors, training with Arsht staff on theatrical rigging and computer-aided design and taking personal development classes, such as financial management.

Once the Arsht Center re-emerged to host newly imagined socially-distanced events, the apprentices were able to resume working on high-profile productions, including the launch of a new Live on the Plaza outdoor concert series and the swearing-in ceremony of Miami-Dade’s first female mayor, Daniella Levine Cava.

“The world of live entertainment seemed very foreign until I started the apprenticeship,” said apprentice Andre Best. “Now I have the opportunity to work in events that I’ve wanted to be around my whole life.”

Since the onset of COVID-19, the Arsht Center lost $11 million in revenue. However, the apprentice program remains unscathed thanks to recent grants from the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Family Foundation and The Frederick A. DeLuca Foundation. The grants provided the financial support needed to offer continuity and longevity to the three-year program.

The apprentices, along with the Arsht Center staff from whom they are learning on the job, adhere to strict health and safety precautions, including temperature checks, hand-washing and mask-wearing at all times.

About the Author:

Mayte Padron Cordones is an Emmy-award winning journalist and the director of WPLG's Community Relations Department, overseeing the station's outreach initiatives to benefit and strengthen the South Florida community.