- West High School
West HS Students Take the Stage in a Professional Theater Production
October 7, 2022 -- History comes alive at West High School in the form of live theater. West partnered with the non-profit organization Greatest Stories Never Told and the Columbus Association of Performing Arts (CAPA) to bring the interactive living history play On Golden Wings to students and staff at West.
The production tells the little-known story of James Banning and Thomas Allen, the first African Americans to fly across the United States.
“The mission of the Greatest Stories Never Told is to write scripts that focus around the minority groups that are not mentioned enough in our history,” West Principal Daniel Roberts explained. “The flight of Banning and Allen was never nationwide news as it should have been.”
The two aviators left Los Angeles on September 19, 1932, with just $25 between them. Over the next 21 days, they would overcome their lack of capital through community efforts. Each time they landed, they took donations from locals. Those who contributed to their efforts were invited to sign the left wingtip of their plane, which they called ‘The Gold Book.’ Finally, the two successfully landed in Manhattan on October 9th.
Educators at West saw that stories like this are often overlooked. They sought to change that by bringing the tale of Banning and Allen’s accomplishments to their students.
“I think there is a lack of hero stories when you’re dealing with African American history. It’s always ‘Roots’ and Amistad. ” said Cameron Williamson, West’s theater director. “There’s more to our community than just that. Folks have done amazing things. Let’s talk about that.”
On October 6th, the story of Banning and Allen came to life in West’s auditorium, giving students the chance to learn about the two defining figures in aviation. Several members of the West community got involved in the production. Williamson and vocal music teacher Mary Bateman worked with a group of students to create an original scene the students performed alongside the actors.
“There’s one scene where the pilots crash in a town, and they’re looking for parts to repair their plane. That’s where our kids come in,” explained Bateman. “We do some dancing, and the students get to join the lead actors in a song. It’s a great opportunity for us to showcase some of our talents here at West.”
Denyjah Tyson was one of the young thespians selected to be in the production. She has wanted to be an actress since she was young and is excited at the opportunity to work with professionals, one of which, Kevin Mambo, has been on Broadway.
“There’s someone on the stage who has won Emmys, and I’m up next,” Tyson said. “I’m excited.”
Roberts said experiences like this one enrich a student’s academic experience.
“When people ask how we can move the culture and climate, this is it,” he said. “If you do something like this every week, I strongly believe by the end of the year we can move the needle on culture and climate in a way that has never been done before.”
The West students will take their talents to the historic Lincoln Theater next where they will be in another showing of On Golden Wings, this time in front of more than just their classmates.
“I enjoy performing in front of new people,” Tyson said. “I would love to eventually perform in front of thousands.”
If you are interested in attending On Golden Wings, there is a free public showing available to the public on Saturday, October 8th at the Lincoln Theatre from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m.