Diversity Speaker Promotes Advocacy Through Art, Theater In The Ohio River Valley
As part of our "Returning Home" series, David talks with Carmen Mitzi Sinnott about her decision to come back to Appalachia after years of delivering keynote performances, workshops, and classes around the world.
Sinnott is a mixed race women from the region who uses her background as an artist and educator to help others discuss equity and identity, through her company, "All Here Together Productions".
Presently, Sinnott and "ALL Here Together Productions" are working on a project to bring artists together from around the nation to paint murals in Huntington’s Fairfield district. The murals are planned to be painted in the spring of 2022.
The transcript below is from the original broadcast. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
Mitzi: So I had already been traveling to train with dance masters in Columbus, Ohio, so as a high schooler, I was driving myself to Columbus, Ohio twice a week. It was pretty clear at that point, what I wanted to achieve, I wanted to become a professional dancer. Both my parents are successful performing artists, Appalachian successful performing artists. And both of them have aspirations of doing more work outside of here. So when I decided at 16, that was the moment I was like, Okay, I really want to do this professionally. Russell High School in Russell, Kentucky actually take their senior class for a week to New York City and Washington DC. The teachers were so amazing, they let me take dance class outside of the tour that was scheduled.
David Adkins: What made you change your career from a Dancer to an educator?
Mitzi: For a year I was like Mom, I want to go to Los Angeles. I wanna do Music Videos. I moved to Los Angeles for a year after one year at F-I-T. I realized at that point, there were jobs available for dance teachers in public schools in Manhattan. The position of director of the extended day program at the school of Future became available. And I had worked there for a year part time, their director, Samantha Vincent, who, by the way, is Vin Diesel's sister, she was like, “Mitzi, I think you could be the next director. I’m leaving to go to Las Angeles.”
David Adkins: What motivated you to start All Here Together Productions, and what motivated you to write the play Snapshot, which is based on your father and your life in Appalachia?
Mitzi: The protests in New York City about the U.S's invasion in Iraq, it really instigated something in me, where I was already thinking about war, and the ridiculousness of war and not having a real purpose other than destroying families, communities, nations.
So All Here Together Productions expanded to community work, and doing this sort of self reflective, and always thinking about culture, race, ethnicity, and, you know, violent. My story, using it as a way to sound off about who we are, where do we want to be in the future? Like, what are our wounds? What are our pains, what might be holding us? And who do we want to become in the future. So all here together, productions started. Even more, it was always about national and international interactions, like from the start.
David Adkins: When did you start shifting your attention toward the region?
Mitzi: In early 2016, the United Way of the River Cities was beginning to plan their approach to a grant that was called Together We Rise. The United Way nationally wanted to see if their organizations could somehow have conversations around racism and dismantling racism because of them murder, the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina and the church there. So I was asked to come on Sandra Clements had recommended to Laura Gilliam.
They had, already, some community leaders coming together to design what a town hall might look like around racism. They were really nervous about having conversations about racism. What I'm suggesting we do is use art as a way to sort of break up the tension first, create a place for understanding and common ground before we start to get into the conversation. And so I was able to apply that All Here Together style to what United Way river cities wanted to accomplish with their town hall.
So I wrote a short play that had community members performing and that's how we opened up the first United Way of the River Cities, Together We Rise, with a play, the actors were sitting amongst the over 250 people that showed up in Huntington. I'm so grateful for Huntington, the folks in Huntington who have allowed me to be part of their processes.