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Media Unit hosts 12th annual @ The BeVard Teen Performance Festival

The Media Unit performs for inmates at the Justice Center last Friday evening as part of the 12th annual @ The BeVard Teen Performance Festival. From left, Destany Finney (winner of this year's Billie Holiday Award for Best Female Performer), Brianna Kent, Ana-Rachel Richardson, Kemet High and (hidden) Sequioa Kemp. Photo Chuck Wainwright, courtesy the Media Unit.

"I didn't expect to win!" confided the slight young woman last Friday night, her eyes alight and palms held to her cheeks. "I was crying!"

Destany Finney recalled the pleasurable shock of being named best female performer at this year's @ The BeVard Teen Performance Festival just before her third show of the day. Part of the Media Unit, the 35-year-old local teen performance and production program run by Walt Shepperd that prepares young people for careers in the performing arts -- some 80 percent of their alums work in the field -- Finney had already had a long day. Up early after Thursday's tech and dress rehearsals and character development workshop, the Media Unit and their guests for the second year, the Positive Youth Troupe (PYT) from Mind-Builders Creative Arts Center in the Bronx, started Friday with the festival competition in The BeVard Room theatre at Mulroy Civic Center. They spent Friday afternoon in an interactive workshop taped for television broadcast on Time Warner here and on Manhattan's Neighborhood Network Youth Channel (WMU). After 45 minutes for dinner, they were hauling their sets and props and equipment up the elevators in the Onondaga County Justice Center to perform both shows all over again for the 16 to 18-year-old men who are inmates in Pod 2-C.

Judging this year's competition Friday morning -- the Media Unit's "Angels with Broken Wings: If We Had Peace" and Positive Youth Troupe's "C.H.O.I.C.E.S." -- were Bill Morris of LeMoyne College's drama program, Rodney Hudson of Syracuse University's drama program, and Tony Brown of Syracuse Shakespeare. They presented the Billie Holiday Awards for best female and male performances respectively to Finney and to PYT's Elias ("like the prophet," he told me) Soto, Best Sound to PYT's Akil Rivers, Best Lighting to Media Unit member Kyla McAlmont, the Bessie Smith Award for best group performance to the Media Unit and -- wisely -- the Curtis Mayfield Award for excellence in ensemble to both companies. The final prize came Friday night, decided by the 45 young men inside, who voted the People's Choice Award to the Bronx visitors.

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