Alana Bright Talks The Power of Art in HOMESCHOOL MUSICAL: CLASS OF 2020 on HBO Max
“This is for our generation. This is for the kids that feel unheard. That grew up thinking their story wasn’t enough or felt unseen. This is for you.”
Alana Bright is one of the seven talented, now graduated, high school seniors featured in Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020, a new documentary special streaming on HBO Max. I recently spoke with Bright from her home in Texas about being a part of this television event, her unbreakable bond with her costars, and the power that art has.
Back in March, Bright was preparing for her senior show at the performing arts high school she attended just as news came that they would be stopping all in-person performances. “Many things my senior year didn’t come to fruition but at the end of the day everything happens for a reason.”
The day after Broadway went dark due to COVID-19, star Laura Benanti took to Twitter, asking graduating high school seniors to send in clips from their musicals that would no longer get to be performed due to the lockdown. She wanted to be their audience. What she expected to be a few mentions turned into thousands of videos, and the response was overwhelming – clips of seniors decked out in their costumes or standing in their rooms with a flashlight that filled the comments of this tweet were inspiring and uplifting.
Of course with the ongoing pandemic, the entire documentary was self-shot by each of the students. “It was an experience beyond what I’d imagine. Boxes and crates of equipment shipped to my house. Sets of lights and computers and wires. I’ve never seen anything like it before.” This was part of what she felt made the project so unique and allowed her to grow as a performer. “It would just be the producers and me at the end of the day tearing everything down. I learned so much about what our crew behind the scenes go through and how appreciative we should be for them.”
Throughout the special, Bright focuses on the notion of Black joy and the impact of George Floyd’s death earlier this summer. “He attended the same church as me when I was around 13. He would set up chairs in Houston on the basketball court. I remember those Sundays,” she said. “Growing up Black in America you understand what it is to be black here, what it is to feel different and always feel like your Blackness is heavy.”
Bright wanted to focus on something other than just strife. “I wanted my family, friends, and community to know that another form of protest we have is joy, is peace, is walking freely in loving who we are because for some of us that time is limited. We have to stand up to the powers that be and say that my life is worth enjoying. My life is worth joy.”
Benanti was a key factor in how Bright ended up choosing the song she sang in Homeschool Musical. “Laura and I were going back and forth via email trying to find what I wanted to sing, what I wanted to say, what song really fits with my voice, and what encapsulated this moment that I was in.” As the emails continued back and forth Benanti sent Bright the new song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by H.E.R. “This is absolutely perfect, beautiful. Right down to the spoken word. This song had space for me to literally say all the things I wanted to say myself. It lays the whole story of what we as Black Americans go through. It’s a joy, a proclamation, how we can respect each and how we are deserving of joy.”
Bright hopes that this documentary can uplift those in times of struggle especially those experiencing their senior year now. “It’s not ideal and it’s hard, especially when you work so hard for something to come into fruition and it might not be the way you envisioned it, but it will have a bright side, it will have something that will allow you to look back and say, I made history in this moment.”
We discussed the love and admiration she has for her castmates, a group she says will be friends for life. “It’s not every day you get to meet people who are so driven and so passionate. Not only that they’re so kind and so loving they help me through such difficult times in just the short amount of time we’ve known each other.” In the past few weeks, Benanti and the seven students have been connecting via social media, especially on TikTok, to promote the film and reconnect with each other.
“I always think about how I was as a little brown girl and I’m watching TV and how I always wanted to be what I wanted to see. We want you to feel like you’re a part of this with us because you are. You’re seen. You’re heard. You’re here. Look what you can do, look what you’re capable of.”
Bright is currently a freshman at the University of Southern California, pursuing a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Musical Theater. For now, she is excited to continue her schooling and is looking forward to the future. “Getting my degree is priority number one and staying up to the world of projects so that when more opportunities come along my heart is ready and my art is ready.”
Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 is now streaming on HBO Max.