A new performing arts company has manifested in Grand Rapids, with a mission to bring entertainment as well as empowerment to the people and performers of West Michigan.
The charge is being led by Mark Jackson, artistic director and founder of America’s Music Company.
“This is meant to be more or less a professional repertory company that does different shows throughout the year as a unit and does community engagement — tutoring and mentoring and workshops and things,” Jackson said.
He has put together an ensemble of 12 performers — six singers and a rock band — who stage all originally arranged music.
“We use tunes that people know, but we arrange them in unique ways that are musical variety shows, theme-based shows,” Jackson said. “So it’s not story-driven, like traditional musical theater.”
AMC’s next upcoming performance is TV Land: A Musical Adventure, set for June 2 at Wealthy Theatre.
“The show itself is like a television show taping, so the audience there watching the show live is watching a television show being taped,” Jackson said.
Normally, a live audience doesn’t see the commercial breaks, but at this show, those also are performed live. Jackson said it’s not a real story, but more of a compilation of TV show medleys and comedy bits. Some of the TV shows featured include Friends, How I Met Your Mother and Cheers, ranging from the 1960s until now.
“You might not know every single song, but it’s composed of popular music that’s out there,” Jackson said.
When starting this new nonprofit performance group, Jackson said he was just trying to do something different that wasn’t being done much in Grand Rapids. He wanted something more than just musical theater or just a concert. So, he pulled together some musician friends to make the ensemble and put together a board.
Reginald Kapteyn and Jackson met as music majors at Grand Rapids Community College 25 years ago, and recently reconnected working on an Opera Grand Rapids show. Kapteyn is now the AMC board president, and is excited to give artistic opportunities to the community.
“The goal is to present a new musical format that emphasizes popular music, which can include vocal jazz, rock, country, R&B, hip hop, anything that has a tradition in popular music,” Kapteyn said. “It’s also intended to be historical and educational, bringing out fun facts, featuring certain performers such as Ella Fitzgerald or great American composers and performers like Prince and Stevie Wonder. The emphasis is on community involvement, but we have the artistic talent and integrity to help individuals perform at a high level. The goal is professional quality without necessarily having professional musicians — we will mentor along the way.”
Kapteyn said the challenge for AMC is that the idea is unique and somewhat hard to describe, but both he and Jackson plan to spread the word the best they can and reach all different factions of the community.
“The dream is to have summer workshops, or even year-round workshops, in different communities — like Sparta, Lowell, Wayland, the inner city — where we would have trained professionals guiding community members creating these types of shows for themselves,” Jackson said. “Writing them, arranging them, selling the tickets, booking the venues, the rehearsal spaces. They would really do the whole entire thing, guided by professionals.”
Jackson teaches voice lessons at Triumph Music Academy, high-school workshops and jazz at Kalamazoo College, as well as performing solo and in his band Hey Marko.
He has a master’s in jazz performance from Western Michigan University, where he also got his bachelor’s in music. Uniquely, he played Tom Collins in RENT on Broadway from ’97 to ’02. He worked with people like Neil Patrick Harris, Jesse Martin and Idina Menzel, and performed in New York, London, and more. Performing in this classic show gave Jackson an even deeper appreciation for the arts and those who create it.
“People are dignified, no matter who they are and what their situation is,” Jackson said. “It taught me to see people as human beings first, period.”
Jackson graduated from Creston High School, and one of his biggest influences was Duane Davis, who directed his high school choir and is now a well-known musical director in the GR theater community. Now, Jackson wants to stay in his hometown and build up his new project.
“I want America’s Music Company to become a community asset,” he said. “Something that the community feels like they can’t be without, once it’s established.”
TV Land: A Musical Adventure
1130 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids
June 2, 8 p.m., $18