Recently, I had the pleasure of attending an outstanding cabaret show performed by CoCo Smith at the West Side United Church of Christ. The purpose of this show was to raise funds for continuing her education in New York City, where she is attending The American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). As she explains, her dream is to perform as a professional theatrical artist, and ultimately, on the boards of Broadway. There are many roads to the Big Apple, which can start at any age, any economic background, any level of professional schooling, and from any support system. This young lady found her calling 4 years ago, when she performed in the Near West Theatre production of RENT. I thought I would sit down with CoCo and find out a little bit more about this aspiring artist. Here are some highlights:
TPOG: CoCo is an interesting name. Is that your real name?
CoCo: Actually, no. When I was younger my friends used to call me “Coconuts”, because I was a little crazy fun. Around that time I had a guitar teacher who didn’t like that name, so he called me “CoCo”, and it just stuck.
TPOG: What was your prior experience in theatre and singing?
CoCo: Singing in church was my first exposure to singing in front of an audience. But I was shy at first, my mother would have to hold my hand and guide me, eventually gaining a bit more confidence. I sang in school choirs growing up, but my first real theatre experience was participating in the musical RENT at Near West Theatre 4 years ago. I also spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos listening and trying to emulate the artists who I respected. Basically, learning through osmosis.
TPOG: What did Near West Theatre offer you as part of your transformation, and decision to pursue your artistic dream?
CoCo: Near West Theatre has a very unique process of developing a show. At first, we explore ourselves through a series of exercises that challenges you to find and face your faults and weaknesses. It also strives to identify ways to free your imagination and artistry. Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. was at the helm of that process. On the other end of the spectrum was Darius Stubbs, who was a huge influence, as he helped me develop my specific character and find my way to process the identity of who I was.
TPOG: How did you hear about AMDA?
CoCo: When I was taking some extra classes at Tri-C, I saw a poster for AMDA, and decided to audition on a whim. I did, and got in, but never had the forethought of figuring out who I was going to pay for it. Maybe just seeing if I could get in, without thinking I could. So I was down, but not out. So last year, I shared by vision, and with the help of my classmates, incredible advice from Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek (Executive Director and Founder of Near West Theatre), and family support, I was able to audition, get in, and attend school last October. All of this happened within 6 months. It was incredible.
TPOG: What gave you the idea for your cabaret show?
CoCo: Well the name of the show is Discovering Me – A Benefit Concert. I need to continue to raise funds to go to school, and it was a way for me to share my experiences dealing with New York City and school. Coincidentally, I met the musical director for my cabaret at my AMDA audition. Bryan Bird actually played for my audition, so our collaboration seemed destined.
The show was performed in an intimate section of the church administrative building, with stained glass windows and God looking down at all of us and smiling. Narrative was intermixed with a song list that ranged from Funny Girl, Sondheim, and Annie Get Your Gun. Although my favorite song was a selection called Random Black Girl, which was a hilarious tribute to the lone black woman in the chorus. And Miss CoCo nailed it!
She ended her show with her assimilated new mantra: Be Tough, Believe in Yourself, and Fight for the Dream. That is definitely a wonderful mantra for a spectacular young lady.
If you would like to help CoCo Smith with her dream, send me a message and I will be happy to pass it along.