When Torrey Russell dreams, he doesn’t dream small. The founder of Las Vegas-based nonprofit theater organization Broadway in the HOOD (broadwayinthehood.org) has big plans for his latest production, American Son.
“The goal is to perform for 100,000 kids throughout the country before June of next year,” Russell says. He has already taken the play, which he directed, to local junior high and high schools. After a run for students, the general public will have several chances to see it—at West Las Vegas Library for free, and then at Art Square Theatre for under $20. “It has taken on a mind of its own, and it’s really, really, really made a difference in the community,” Russell says.
American Son is an exploration of race, family, identity and police relations. Written by Christopher Demos-Brown, the Broadway play became a Netflix film in 2019 with Kerry Washington in the lead role of Kendra. The story follows an estranged interracial couple who wait in a police station to find the fate of their missing son. It “demonstrate[s] how the tendrils of prejudice creep everywhere, even into the cracks of a marriage,” The New York Times wrote.
Actress Misty Easler says playing the ailing mother Kendra is the role of a lifetime. “She’s dealing with racism, identity, family, humanity, love and heartbreak,” Easler says. “There’s so many levels and layers to her. I was just determined to play her.”
Easler says that playing for students has been humbling. “You really don’t realize what children at these young ages are going through,” Easler says. “I’m realizing that they’re seeing much more than I did [as a teen].” She says that she feels a responsibility to “be so authentic in telling the story and conveying that as humanity we are one. All children are our children, no matter what race they are. Any mother could understand what this mother is going through.”
The “HOOD” in Broadway in the HOOD stands for “helping others open doors.” It represents a mission dear to the heart of its founder. Raised by a single mother with few resources, Russell was on a dangerous path until an interested teacher guided him toward theater and helped him audition for a performing arts high school.
Today, Russell’s mission is to ensure the next generation—especially at-risk youth—has access to plays and theater training. The group has performed Broadway-style shows at the Smith Center. They’ve even attracted Broadway legend Ben Vereen as a partner. Success stories abound, such as Las Vegan Jordan Toure, who successfully auditioned for Broadway’s The Lion King, according to the Smith Center’s website. The group has accomplished a lot, despite being solely funded by donations and sponsorship.
Looking forward, Russell has visions of growth for Broadway in the HOOD. He’s been talking to city officials about a dedicated building for the organization. He’s preparing for the summer theater camp, which will host about 100 students from the community. In April, Broadway in the HOOD will hold auditions for a tribute to Wicked, The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz. “We want the public to come out and actually audition,” Russell says. To be accessible to all groups, he’ll host auditions at North Las Vegas’ Pearson Community Center, along with the Smith Center. Additionally, Russell is ecstatic about the upcoming 10th anniversary show set for late 2020.
“It has been a wonderful journey thus far,” Russell says. “And we’re hoping to keep it going.”
American Son March 15, 2 p.m., free. West Las Vegas Library, 702-507-3989. March 20-22, times vary, $15-$18. Art Square Theatre, artsquaretheatre.com.