Meet the amazing cast, choir, and creative team behind this powerful and uplifting gospel musical.
The Gospel at Colonus is a soaring celebration of transcendence and the fragility of life. The music is an inspiring fusion of Black church gospel with blues and Motown. The show’s message of redemption and hope is sorely needed right now.
Ashley Buster (Ismene) is a DC Metro native from Silver Spring, MD. She is a member of the Actors’ Equity Association and is currently completing her M.Ed. in Educational Leadership at Loyola University Maryland. Her area credits include Freedom’s Song (Ford’s), Elmer Gantry (Signature), and Go Dog, Go! (Next Stop). She is excited to be doing her first show with Avant Bard!
Tiffany Byrd (Antigone) is truly humbled to be apart of this groundbreaking work! She has performed professionally across the DMV as an actress and trained salsa dancer. Her credits include roles in Sister Act, Carmen, Caroline, or Change, and In the Heights. I thank Jesus for his continued blessings! Instagram: tiffibyrd
A.J. Calbert (Theseus) hails from the cornfields of Illinois and is excited to make his debut with Avant Bard. A.J. studied acting at the Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory and holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Yale University. His previous shows include: Romeo & Juliet (Capulet), Prince George’s Shakespeare; A Christmas Carol (Young Scrooge and others), Chesapeake Shakespeare Company; Oedipus the King (Creon, Teiresias), Lean & Hungry Theatre; DC State Players present: Agamemnon (Agamemnon), Barrelhouse Theatre.
DeMone (Singer Oedipus) is thrilled to work with this incredible cast! He is an award-winning actor, singer, and producer whose numerous credits include Ragtime, Miss Saigon, Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar, Once on This Island, Sideshow (Jeff Award for Best Supporting Actor), The Full Monty, Elf, A Christmas Carol, and Ain’t Misbehavin. Film and TV credits include Person of Interest, Law and Order SVU, California Dreams, Amen, In the Eyes of God (Regional Emmy) and Bad Street.
e’Marcus Harper-Short (Creon), who is also Musical Director of The Gospel at Colonus, is a performer with extensive recording, touring, and television credits. Among the artists he has worked with as keyboardist, vocalist, or conductor: Carlos Santana, MC Hammer, Lionel Richie, David Murray, Davey Yarborough, Walter Hawkins, Tramaine Hawkins, Li’l Richard, Aretha Franklin, Billy Preston, and Michael Jackson.
Branden Mack (Chorus) is a vocalist from Cincinnati Ohio. Branden graduated from Hughes Center High School and then attended The Ohio State University with a full academic scholarship. While at Ohio State, Branden joined the leadership of The African American Voices Gospel Choir, which allowed him to strengthen his vocal gift as well as mentor others in their spiritual and vocal abilities. After school at OSU, Branden moved to Michigan to attend graduate school at Wayne State University. He is now excited to continue his experience with artistic development through continued productions and performances in the DMV. “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” —Eleanor Roosevelt
Chauncey Matthews (Balladeer) won the hearts of millions when at age 11 he won the American Idol spin-off talent show, American Juniors, hosted by Ryan Seacrest. He was mentored by pop icons Debbie Gibson, Brian McKnight, and soul legend Gladys Knight, He and four other winners on the FOX Network TV show signed with Jive Records as the pop band, American Juniors. The group toured internationally performing with American Idol stars Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, and Kelly Clarkson. Chauncey graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where he began performing again with such world-renowned acts as Grammy Award–winning icon Lalah Hathaway, Billboard chart topper Halsey, and vocal powerhouse Alice Smith. YouTube channel: Chauncey Matthews. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixBHV9N8CN8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_Z01lAas6g
William Thomas Newman Jr. (Preacher Oedipus) is a busy and familiar stage, screen, TV, and voiceover performer. He most recently played the title roles in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Shakespeare’s Othello with Lean & Hungry Theatre. He won critical acclaim as Jack in The Winter’s Tale. His theatre credits also include starring roles in Plaza Suite, Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, and Let’s Get Sanctified. On network TV he played the role of Hal Johnson on the daytime serial Somerset, and his motion picture credits include Suspect and Lee Daniels’s The Butler.
Rafealito Ross (Chorus) is a lyric tenor and a Washington, DC, native. metropolitan area. He is a graduate of George Mason University (B.M., Vocal Performance) and Catholic University of America (M.M., Vocal Performance). Currently Rafealito teaches choral music in the Prince Georges County school system and private voice at Falls Church Music Conservatory, and he serves as the Director of Music at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Herndon, VA. As an emerging artist, Rafealito has performed the roles of Ferrando in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte; The Conductor in Pasatieri’s La Divina; King Kaspar in Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors; Rinuccio in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi; Eisenstein in Strauss’ Die Fledermaus; Basilio in Le Nozze di Figaro and Tamino in Die Zauberflote, both by Mozart. In December 2003 Rafealito made his debut with the Old Bridge Chamber Orchestra as the tenor soloist in Handel’s Messiah and was invited to return for the 2004 performances. Rafealito has also had the opportunity to perform as a featured soloist in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Salzburg, Austria. More recently Rafealito has performed the roles of the Tin-Man in an Off-Broadway production of The Wiz, a leading soloist in Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity, Goro in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Camille in Lehar’s operetta The Merry Widow, Romèo in Gounod’s Romèo et Juliette, and Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. When Rafealito isn’t singing he enjoys exploring new restaurants and activities in DC; spending time with his dog Rocco, family, and friends; and watching marathons of A&E’s The First 48. http://rafealitoross.weebly.com Twitter: @R2Tenor YouTube channel: Rafealito Ross
Greg Watkins (Polyneices), a born and bred Washington, DC, native, is a well-respected artist and virtuoso singer, pianist, musical director, composer and arranger, actor, and voice talent and a brilliantly pure entertainer. A proud graduate of The Duke Ellington School of the Arts and The Howard University (BM, Music Education), he has opened concerts for six-time Stellar Award Winner Byron Cage, nine-time Grammy Award winner the late Natalie Cole, and the most awarded eclectic a’capella group in history: Take 6. Most recently Greg has been accepted to attend Catholic University as a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in Voice, and he will soon return to the Kennedy Center to reprise his role as iconic jazz musician Billy Strayhorn in Tom Minter’s newest adaptation of Blues for a Royal Flush. https://m.facebook.com/theofficialgregwatkins/
Minister Becky Mays Jenkins (Founder and Director of the Women’s Ecumenical Choir) is a native of Alexandria, VA. She is also a remarkable minister and vocalist who has traveled extensively in various countries fulfilling the great commission of the Word of God. She has ministered throughout the United States and has traveled abroad to France, England, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Austria, Holland, and Norway. She has performed as a background singer for such legendary and stellar award-winning artists as Richard Smallwood, Edwin Hawkins, Walter Hawkins, Yolanda Adams, Jennifer Holliday, Tramaine Hawkins, Twinkie Clark, and Michael Jackson. She has also been a vocalist with such nationally acclaimed gospel groups as “The Wesley Boyd Gospel Music Workshop Choir,” “Jeremiah Murphy and Judah,” and “El Shaddai.” She has appeared on the dramatic stage with world-renowned actors such as Morgan Freeman, and Carl Lumbly and was part of the cast of the 1984 production of Gospel at Colonus presented at Arena Stage. She is a much sought-after music clinician, workshop facilitator, and motivational speaker.
The Women’s Ecumenical Choir of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA, was divinely inspired by God and placed on the heart of Minister Becky Mays Jenkins. The initial purpose of the group was to provide music for the Women’s Day Service at Ebenezer in March 2007. Approximately 40 women, representing various churches throughout the faith community came together for the single purpose of lifting up the Name of Jesus through song. Since then the choir has traveled to Bear, Delaware; Edwardsville, Virginia; Albany, New York; Buffalo, New York; West Virginia; Hardeeville, South Carolina; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Atlanta, Georgia, ministering God’s Word through song. They were the featured artists at the City of Alexandria’s Mayoral Inauguration, the Alexandria Branch of the NAACP Officers Installation, and in August 2011, they ministered for the Tuskegee Airman’s Gospel Luncheon. The choir is the first Gospel Choir to be included in the Alexandria Performing Arts Society’s yearly calendar. There are currently more than 65 women from the Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, and Christian Methodist Episcopal religious backgrounds throughout the Washington, DC, Metropolitan area represented in the group. We are grateful for the support of all the Pastors of the churches represented. We are willing vessels with a strong desire to do God’s will. We are committed to carrying the Word through song and letting the lives we live speak for us.
Members of the Women’s Ecumenical Choir who will be performing with The Gospel at Colonus are Krystal L. Cottman, Laurese Gerald, Sandy Taylor Hawkins, Darci M. Perkins, Tranita A. Randolph, Robin Walker Shanks, and Kimberly A. Young.
Abdou “CleanHandz” (Percussion) has over 30 years’ experience playing the djembe. He has been fortunate to be taught and received extensive training from Songa of the Valley, David Rock, Ezibu Muntu, Melvin Deal, Papa Aziz, and his godfather, Abdou Kounata. At the age of 3, Abdou began learning the art of djembe from Songa of the Valley, who was the lead drummer for Baba Olatunji’s Company. Abdou’s family moved to Richmond and he joined Ezibu Muntu. He became the group’s lead drummer at the age 11 and held the position until he was 19. Continuing his journey, Abdou moved to the Washington, DC, area where he was a member or performed with African Heritage, Coyaba Dance Theater, Soul In Motion, KanKouran, Elegba Folklore Society, Ezibu Muntu, Green Beats, The Washington Ballet, The Dance Place, Step Afrika!, and many more. Abdou has also opened for the Broadway musical Fela!, in DC, National Slave Ground Anniversary in Richmond, VA, Nigerian Embassy Celebration, NACA Conference, and at the National Cathedral School of Dance Performance. Abdou “CleanHandz” Muhammad aims to bridge the gap between the traditional African rhythms with modern genres of music like jazz, hip-hop, classical, funk, and reggae. Abdou “CleanHandz” Muhammad is drumming for Life, meaning drumming from one’s Spirit and not for the show of skill. When Abdou “CleanHandz” drums, he’s drumming for family, community, health, and spiritual elevation.
e’Marcus Harper-Short (Keyboard). See his performing bio above under Cast and his musical direction bio below.
CREATIVE TEAM AND PRODUCTION CREW
Jennifer L. Nelson (Director) is a Washington, DC-based theater professional committed to principles that value human dignity, justice, and compassion. She is Resident Director of Mosaic Theater Company and brings more than 40 years of experience as an actor, playwright, administrator, professor, director, and two-term president of the League of Washington Theatres. She is Senior Advisor for Programming at Ford’s Theatre, and previously served for 11 years as the Producing Artistic Director of the African Continuum Theatre Company, where she directed more than 20 full productions and readings. She is a 26-year veteran of Living Stage Theatre Company, the former community-outreach program at Arena Stage. Nelson has directed productions at Ford’s Theatre, Round House, Woolly Mammoth, Theater of the First Amendment, Theater J, and more. As a playwright, Nelson won the Helen Hayes/Charles MacArthur Award for Most Outstanding New Play for her play Torn From the Headlines. She has taught at UCLA, George Washington University, and American University, most recently teaching “Theatre for Social Change” as an adjunct lecturer at Georgetown University.
e’Marcus Harper-Short (Musical Director/Keyboard/Creon) received the Helen Hayes Award (2015) for Outstanding Musical Direction for Black Nativity by Langston Hughes (Theater Alliance); a Grammy Award nomination (1998) for Best Traditional Gospel Recording as Conductor for Love Alive V: Walter Hawkins and the Love Center Choir; and a Hollywood NAACP Theater Image Award Nomination (2004) for Best Musical Direction for Da Kink in My Hair by Trey Anthony. Other credits include Musical Arranger for Three Mo’ Divas (PBS Special National) conceived by Marion J. Caffey, and Musical Direction for Invisible Life (Apollo Theater, New York) based on a book by E. Lynn Harris.
Tim Jones (Scenic and Properties Designer) is presently the Props Shop Supervisor and an instructor at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland. He has also worked as a freelance Scenic and Props Designer throughout the Washington, DC, area. His design work has been seen on stage at African Continuum Theatre, Theater J, Kansas City Rep, Morgan State University, and Everyman Theatre, as well as the Kennedy Center Theatre for Young Audiences. Tim is a native of Prince Georges County, MD, but has lived and worked throughout the United States. He holds an MFA in Scenery and Properties Design from the University of Memphis and a BA in Communication from Salisbury State College.
John D. Alexander (Lighting Designer) is excited to make his debut with Avant Bard. His recent designs include the national tour of The Migration: Reflections of Jacob Lawrence presented by Step Afrika!, Yellowman by Dael Orlandersmith, Blackberry Winter by Steve Yockey, Darius and Twig by Calette Jennings, and the national tour of Anne and Emmett by Janet Langhart Cohen. http://www.johndalexanderdesign.com
Danielle Preston (Costume Designer) is a costume designer based in the DC metro area. Recent design credits include: Other Desert Cities (Triad Stage), The Christians, The How & The Why (Theatre J), Darius & Twig (The Kennedy Center Theatre for Young Audiences), Where the Words Once Were (The Kennedy Center Theatre for Young Audiences), All the Way LIVE! (The Kennedy Center Theatre for Young Audiences/ B-Fly Entertainment/ TYA National Tour), Holiday Memories, TAME. (Avant Bard), A Bid to Save the World (Rorschach Theatre), Br’er Cotton & Picnic (Catholic University of America). Awards/ Fellowships: William R. Kenan Jr. Fellowship at the John F. Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. (2015–2016) and A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute Fellowship in Costume Design (2013–2014). Education: MFA in Costume Design from The University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Costume Design. www.daniellepreston.com
Justin Schmitz (Sound Designer) is thrilled to make his Avant Bard debut! As a Washington, DC-based Sound Designer and Theatre Artist, he recently completed the 2015–2016 William R Kenan Jr. Fellowship at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Justin is a member of the Theatrical Sound Designers and Composers Association as an Early Career Member and is also a part of USITT’s Professional Membership. His work on I Call My Brothers at Forum Theatre has been nominated for a 2017 Helen Hayes award. His work has been featured at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Signature Theatre, Theater J, Studio Theatre, Forum Theatre, Olney Theatre Company, Round House Theatre, Imagination Stage, The University of Maryland, Catholic University of America, The Dixon Place Theater in NYC, Chautauqua Theatre Company in Chautauqua, NY, Triad Stage in Greensboro, NC, The Actors Guild of Parkersburg in WV, numerous education venues, and many other regional locations. He has received fellowships from The Chautauqua Theatre Company in 2013, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to attend The Orchard Project in 2011 and to work with Theater J in DC in 2015-2016. Justin earned a Master’s of Fine Arts degree from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) in Sound Design in 2015. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from The University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in Theatre Design and Technology, where he specialized in Sound Design and Stage Management.
Sandra L. Holloway (Choreographer) is delighted to work with the artistic team and cast of Gospel at Colonus! Some of Sandi’s choreographic credits in musical theater include: For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough for Theater Alliance , Eyes at Howard University, I, Too, Sing America for the Howard Players, Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, tigertigertiger at Theater of the First Amendment, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Guys and Dolls for the GMU Players, among others. Some of her concert dance works have been featured at the Lincoln Theater Black Choreographers Showcase, Dance Theater of Harlem’s 40th Anniversary Celebration, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Hi-Arts Hip-Hop Theater Festival, Hollow Dance In Concert at Howard University Cramton Auditorium and Ira Aldridge Stage, The 45 Degrees Project (a partnership between Joy of Motion DC and Deeply Rooted Dance Company in Chicago, IL), New World Dance Company in DC and is currently working with Hill Dance Academy in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has been included in concert dance seasons for Collage Dance Company in Memphis, TN. Sandihas worked with directors and choreographers including Mike Malone, George Faison, Diane MacIntyre, Kenneth Daugherty, Linda Gravatt, Nick Alcott, Ed Gero, Tom Prewitt, and other really interesting and influential artists. Sandi is the Artistic Director of City at Peace, a youth development organization that uses the arts to effect social change, and is the founder of the holloway arts project (the hap). She is the recipient of the National Association of Regional Ballet Choreographers Conference Award, Mayor’s Arts Award in Arts and Education for City at Peace, GAEA Foundation Sea Change Artist Award for Arts and Activism, the 2015 Paula Giddings Arts Award and was a 2014 Presenter at Alternate ROOTS Festival Week. Sandi is a graduate of the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA.
Keta Newborn (Stage Manager) is thrilled to be making her debut with Avant Bard. As a freelancer, Keta has worked in the world of theatre for over 10 years. She has held several titles including Stage Manager, Assistant Stage Manager, Venue Manager, Production Assistant, and Light and Sound Board Operator. Her past credits include Little Thing, Big Thing (Solas Nua), Yellowman (Anacostia Playhouse), Black Nativity and Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea (Theater Alliance), Leto Legend and Failure: A Love Story (The Hub), Secret Garden and Gidion’s Knot (Next Stop), The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, How We Got On, and Gidion’s Knot (Forum), The Flick and How We Got On (Company One). Keta would like to thank the whole Avant Bard cast and crew and Gunston Arts Center Theatre Two for being a part of an amazing show! She thanks G_d for the opportunity to be used as one of His vessels, working to bring His work of art into the hearts of many while doing what she loves.
Kevin Maresca (Technical Director)
Maegan Clearwood (Resident Dramaturg) is in her second season with Avant Bard, where she is curator of Scripts in Play and has served as production dramaturg for five productions, including the premiere of TAME. She is also a teaching artist for The Highwood Theatre and Signature Theatre. DC dramaturgy credits include: Pinky Swear Productions: Lizzie: The Musical; Rorschach Theatre: A Bid to Save the World; Source Festival: Static; Forum Theatre: World Builders; Olney Theatre Center: I and You, The Piano Lesson, The Tempest, Colossal. She was also the Literary Associate at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and the Dramaturgy Apprentice at the Olney Theatre Center. BA in Drama and English from Washington College.
Brett Steven Abelman (Assistant Dramaturg) is a DC-native creator of stories. He is a proud producing playwright with The Welders. Recent projects include co-creating Play Cupid and Balloon Plays at Capital Fringe Festivals. Brett also reviews at DC Theatre Scene and sometimes blogs at babelwright.wordpress.com.