Feature StoryMay 16, 2012“Dum, dum, dada dada, dum dum dada!” sings Cindy Ripley to a group of about twenty University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus students helping her form a large circle. This year, NBC, inspired by the success of their hit television drama Smash, which explores the off-stage lives of actors trying to “make it” on Broadway, has teamed up with iTheatrics to help bring theater to schools with little or no arts programming.
Although theater and dance program participation is robust, the Fame cast of twenty-four comprises students already involved in performing arts activities at the campus and others who are not. It’s not impossible, though, and students have worked hard to overcome their early struggles. Indeed, though the original version of Fame is dated, students still flock to and identify with its themes, just as Silkey and Jones predicted when they decided to stage it. But first, the Woodlawn cast must get through its June 1 opening night, which, thanks to Jones and his vision, will have a very special guest. The Woodlawn Academy for  the Performing Arts, the education arm of the Woodlawn Theatre, is staging the musical “Aladdin Jr.” this weekend. The show, a young-performer-friendly adaptation of the 1992 Disney animated feature, can be seen at Friday (Jan.
Professional baseball was played at the corner of East Ferry and Michigan Avenue in Buffalo, New York, for 72 years beginning in 1889, through the end of the 1960 season.
Originally known as new Olympic Park (old Olympic Park housed Buffalo baseball teams from 1884 to 1888 at the intersection of Richmond Avenue and Summer Street), in 1907 the ballpark was renamed Buffalo Base Ball Park. The site’s primary tenant was the International League Buffalo Bison, who played there from 1889 to 1960. The ballpark was located directly behind what is now the Bethel AME Church (formerly Covenant Presbyterian Church), with home plate near the back of the church at the intersection of East Ferry Street and Michigan Avenue.
The ballpark faced Southeast towards the intersection of Masten Avenue and Woodlawn Avenue. The Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, Located on the Former Site of Offermann Stadium. In 2012, John Boutet of the Buffalo Sports Museum spearheaded a drive to place a historical plaque at the site. The former site of right field was located at the northeast corner of Woodlawn Avenue and Michigan Avenue.
The former site of left field was located at the southwest corner of Masten Avenue and Ferry Street.
The area behind what was once the ballpark’s home plate is now a parking lot for the school. In addition to Bethel AME Church, many other structures surrounding the ballpark date to the time of Buffalo Base Ball Park and Offermann Stadium. Houses at the intersection Masten Avenue and Ferry Street sat beyond the ballpark’s left field corner.
The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Building at 78 East Ferry Street ran parallel to third base. In 1961, the Buffalo Bison moved ten blocks south from Offermann Stadium to Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium.
The City of Buffalo boasts a rich baseball history, much of it taking place years ago at the intersection of  East Ferry and Michigan Avenue. Tags: American Association, Babe Ruth, Baseball, Bethel AME Church, Bison Stadium, Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, Buffalo All-Americans, Buffalo Base Ball Park, Buffalo New York, Buffalo Rangers, Buffalo Sports Museum, Coca-Cola Field, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Frank J. UEI's work addresses questions like what approaches can dramatically improve early literacy, how attendance is critically linked to academic outcomes, and the ways in which different policy decisions have affected student outcomes over time.

UEI's success stories such as Freshmen On Track and the high-achieving UChicago Charter NKO Campus are just two examples that demonstrate the potential impact when systems to monitor and support positive change are helmed by leaders who empower colleagues to make a difference.
The Consortium's seminal research found that strength on five essential organizational supports were highly correlated with whether schools continued improving student learning. As it becomes increasingly clear that receiving a post-secondary education is necessary to prosper in modern society, UEI has amassed resources, expertise, and years of research demonstrating what works in improving high school and college attainment. They listen intently to Ripley’s melody and watch her slap her legs with her hands and then the legs of the students on either side of her, trying to catch the pattern before they emulate it.
The Woodlawn Campus’ performing arts team, led by Ahava Silkey, director of the Woodlawn Fine Arts Department, in partnership with Michael Jones, executive director of the Professional Theater and Dance Youth Academy, submitted a 12-page application to participate.
Not only do they participate in Ripley’s rejuvenating warm-up exercise without hesitation, but they have rehearsed three times a week for several weeks in preparation for their June 1 opening night. The cohort was chosen from over fifty students who were required to sing, read a monologue, and dance during their audition.
Jones’ friend, actress and singer Nia Peeples, who starred on the television show Fame, will be on hand to introduce the show and, as Jones puts it, “pass on the legacy of Fame.” She will surely enjoy the fruits of the students’ labor.
The original wooden ballpark structure was raised in 1924 and replaced with a concrete and steel structure, and renamed Bison Stadium.
According to Philip Lowry’s Green Cathedrals, Major league baseball also was played at this site for one year in 1890 when the Buffalo Bison of the Players League played their home games at new Olympic Park.
The plaque notes that Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Hank Aaron all played baseball at Offermann Stadium.
The houses in the photograph below sat just beyond the ballpark’s center field fence. Although the ballpark is long gone, enough of the neighborhood that existed at the time of Buffalo Base Ball Park and Offermann Stadium remains to give anyone with an interest in the National Pastime with a sense of where the ballpark once stood. Offermann, Hank Aaron, Indianapolis Clowns, International League, Jackie Robinson, John Boutet, Luke Easter, National Football League, Negro American League, Negro National League, new Olympic Park, New York Black Yankees, NFTA Metro, Offermann Stadium, Players League, War Memorial Stadium, Woodlawn Jr.
The students begin to sing, their voices coalescing into a melodic chorus, their hands clapping out the rhythm. She is here to offer support, check progress, and encourage students as they rehearse for the June 1 performance of their very first musical, an adaptation of Fame, a beloved and popular play that chronicles the lives of students attending a performing arts high school in New York City. In fact, the entire cast volunteered to participate in extra, unscheduled rehearsals each day of their spring break.
The cast is composed of a hodge-podge of students, with varying experience in performing arts, who have come to one consensus since they’ve started rehearsing for Fame: singing and dancing simultaneously is incredibly hard.
Cindy Ripley’s assessment portends success, “It was very obvious to me the first time I came here, when I met the kids, that they were engaged. The Negro National League New York Black Yankees played games at Offermann Park as a neutral site in the 1940s. After the ballpark was demolished in 1962, Woodlawn Junior High School was constructed on the site. Babe Ruth played one of his first professional games at what was then Buffalo Base Ball Park, pitching in 1914 for the International League Baltimore Orioles.
The former ballpark site is located just three miles north of Coca-Cola Field and for fans of the game it certainly is worth the trip. Ripley is a representative from iTheatrics, a New York-based organization that has been helping schools stage age-appropriate adaptations of Broadway musicals since 1997. Now, the campus is one of twenty schools, and the only in the Midwest, piloting the program.

A comparative veteran to theater, William strongly identifies with the seriousness of his character, Nick Piazza, and hopes to become a professional actor. And although Fame was first staged in the 1980s, the iTheatrics updated version of the play is fresh and enticing to students.
Bell and understudying for the role of Carmen, the musical’s lead female character, admits to being addicted to the show. Not only have they volunteered their time, but they’re selling tickets and publicizing the play, which has already generated school-wide buzz amongst classmates.
That they wanted to eat up as much as they could, and that they have a great team around them.” Clearly, the theater program is off to an auspicious start. The Negro American League Indianapolis Clowns played some games at Offermann (neutral site) from 1951 to 1955. Because their fabrics are stretchy (especially their Baby Rib, which has a stretch factor of over 100%), each size can fit a wide range of women.
As a chosen school, the Woodlawn Campus has not only received iTheatrics staff support and its step-by-step tools for staging a musical, but NBC has also provided additional funding and television coverage.
According to Jones, the Woodlawn Campus’ after-school performing arts program began with twelve students; it has since grown to a curriculum program that includes over 150 participants. Justin Thomas, who ebulliently portrays Tyrone Jackson, a very talented dancer who struggles academically, loves the challenge. Professional football also was played at the site, including National Football League Buffalo franchises (the All-Americans from 1920 to 1923, the Buffalo Bisons from 1924 to 1925, and 1927 to 1929, and the Buffalo Rangers in 1926). Such immense growth surely foreshadowed a swell of student interest once it was announced that the campus would be staging Fame. Both hope to facilitate a program that would allow cast members to re-teach Fame to Woodlawn Campus middle-schoolers and students at the other three UChicago Charter School campuses this summer, with the overall goal of producing a community-based, all-charter school production at the end of the camp.
He is focused and confidently moves across the stage, his moves deliberate and perfectly timed. They’re showing how hard it is to get into show business and to be involved in performing arts. Everything they’re experiencing on Smash, I’m experiencing right now.” Even though Smash shows the difficulties of achieving success in show business, Jasmine is undeterred. Like William, Davon also identifies with his character, who he describes as a kind of overconfident ladies’ man and, cheekily, “pretty much like me in real life.” Although as a cast member Davon has been an integral part of these exciting changes at Woodlawn Campus, his involvement is impacting him, too. The Fame experience has both given her a taste of Broadway and created a desire for her to begin pursing a professional stage career, no matter the odds.  Suwanda Hayes also speaks positively about being a cast member. Davon, who admitted to his own academic struggles, has found structure in participating in the play.
He’s learned to manage his time more wisely, and his grades have gotten significantly better. The same scholarly curiosity that compelled Davon to purchase and watch the original version of Fame to better understand his character is now being applied to his schoolwork. Even though it’s really hard, I just push through it, and the harder I push through it, it becomes easier to me,” Hayes said during a rehearsal break.

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