“It was a pretty stressful day today,” Gregg Coates says. Coates is the visual-art and theater coordinator for Echoes of Truth, a summer arts program for Memphis City School students and recent grads. It’s less than a week away from Echoes of Truth’s annual art auction and performance, and everybody knows it. “We’re at the point we always get to — that nervousness,” Coates says. “But the kids always pull through.”
Three hundred students auditioned for the roughly 125 spots available this year, and those spots were funded by last year’s auction and show as well as through private and public donations. Participants are divided into modules — visual arts, dance, music, etc. — and study as apprentices under master teachers. The artwork produced during the program is sold at the auction, and other divisions of the program work to produce the various aspects of the performance — scenery, choreography, music, and even marketing.
The result of all that hard work is Bluesway, a show inspired by Mayor A C Wharton’s letter to Steve Forbes in protest of Forbes magazine naming Memphis one of “America’s 10 Most Miserable Cities.” The show follows the region’s musical heritage, paying tribute to W.C. Handy, B.B. King, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes, and others. The original finale song is
“From Memphis to Beyond,” which celebrates modern-day music-making in Memphis. One thing Coates stresses: “This is not just another school play.” — Susan Ellis