In 1996, August Wilson famously stated: “We can meet on the common ground of the American theater.” He also insisted that “we must develop the ground together.”

These are the words that I can’t help but recall as I sit on the floor of our rehearsal studio surrounded by 19 young performers— the inaugural cohort of the Empowering Young Artists Initiative (EYAI)—as they meet together for the first time.

It is hard to believe that Rising Star Project, the education program that EYAI supports, is in its sixth year of providing mentorship and training to local teens. As I’ve watched the program grow and flourish, the words of Wilson’s famous speech seem to echo with more and more insistence. By supporting young people along their unique paths to careers and higher education, we hope that we are also contributing to the positive impact that these young people will have on the world in the future.

But Wilson’s words remind me that, by bringing together such a diverse and driven group of students, Rising Star Project is also in a unique position to participate in the project that he was insisting on.


The EYAI Squad represents communities as far away as Marysville and Yakima, and as near as Rainier Valley. Through remarkable support from our community, this group will come together for 10 weeks to train with theater professionals, prepare for participation in the mainstage presentation of Rising Star Project: The Pajama Game and to learn more about the form of musical theater. Importantly, this group will also convene to create a dialogue on the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion—and the part that the arts can play in our society.

After Day 1, I will admit that it is equally inspiring to see this group of teenagers acknowledge each other as self-proclaimed musical theater nerds. I guess that is the other area of common ground, the one that August Wilson didn’t cite—but the one that the EYAI Squad will welcome you to with open arms.

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Education and Outreach