Years before the hashtag #StopAsianHate was created to bring awareness to the rise in violence against Asian Americans, Rosaura Cruz was already looking for ways to partner with Asians in the Dallas community and around the globe.
In 2019, Cruz developed a fashion show, Discover Runway Dreams, with Mopai-China Dreams, a for-profit talent agency that works with youth in China. Cruz is the executive director of Junior Players, which provides arts programming for North Texas youths.
The organization performed the first show before COVID-19 put a long pause on the project. Now they’re gearing up for their second run of Discover Runway Dreams, which will run for two days starting on April 7. This year’s show is about more than fashion and flashing lights.
Cruz says the event will focus on racial inequity, social justice barriers and the national climate. They found a local partner in the Crow Collection of Asian Art and will use eco-friendly and sustainable fashion from three local designers.
Junior Players is the longest running youth arts education program in Dallas, and reaching historically marginalized communities in North Texas is an important part — if not the most important part — of their mission.
A show like Discover Runway Dreams was a natural addition to their program.
“With this show, the idea was representation from a casting perspective,” Cruz says. “We want to make sure that we’re allowing everyone who wants to participate the chance to audition. We had to really make sure to include every ZIP code in North Texas, for all ages and all different gender identifications, ethnicity and socioeconomic backgrounds. We took all that into consideration to create a diverse ensemble for our production.”
But the thing that makes Discover Runway Dreams more than just a show with a timely theme is the student participation and input into the production itself.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a fashion show where we heard thoughts from the students about their different ecosystems, and then the fashion lines would be informed by that,'” Cruz says.
How is that accomplished? Through many, many conversations.
“Students are coming from all these different socioeconomic backgrounds and they’re coming together and having these conversations,” Cruz says. “Our models are ages 5 to 17 and they’ve sat in a room and shared their ideas about social justice and racial barriers, about immigration and refugees from different countries, about what it’s like to be lighter or darker skinned within an ethnicity. We have so many demographics in this particular cast. It’s really beautiful to see.”
When she was looking for a director, Cruz immediately thought of Kristin Colaneri, whose experience in fashion, makeup and theater took her to New York and back, and who has been knee-deep in the Dallas art scene ever since. Colaneri's globally minded qualifications as an international baccalaureate teacher made her a natural fit for the role.
Although fashion is an essential part of the production, Colaneri understood Cruz’s vision to build a production that was about creating conversation.
“Art is always born out of the intensity of what’s happening in larger society,” Colaneri says.
The political climate has given Colaneri plenty of material.
The use of “natural materials and getting away from fast fashion,” as Colaneri puts it, is also an essential part of the show.
Junior Players partnered with three local, female BIPOC designers for the fashion lines: Cat Dillon, Tiffany Walker and Erica LeFlore.
Colaneri took notes from the classroom to the designers, who were each charged with creating a themed fashion line that incorporated the students’ thoughts. On the night of the show, attendees will watch video clips from each of the designers that give insight into their design process.
The fasion show will require social distancing for audience members and the use of a face mask at all times. (Yes, the models will be wearing face masks while walking the runway.) They’ll also be using a high efficiency HVAC system.
Cruz has invited representatives from The Campbell Agency and Kim Dawson Agency to attend in hopes their next top model is walking the runway.
“The goal is that these agencies come to Junior Players and see models they want to work with and give representation,” Cruz points out. “These are young aspiring models, so we’re drilling them with technique, technique, technique. They could now go into a talent agency and audition and be ahead of the game.
“We’re teaching them about working with reputable talent agencies, eco-friendly fashion, and about viable pathways within the industry.”
Discover Runway Dreams is the only youth fashion show in Dallas, and Cruz hopes it will become a staple in the Dallas art scene.
“My goal is that you hear Discover Runway Dreams, and it’s like Fashion Week in New York City,” she says. “On a smaller scale, but we’ll eventually get there.”
Discover Runway Dreams will take place at 7:30 p.m., April 7 – 9 at On The Levee. Tickets are $50 for a café table that seats four, $15 general admission individual seating, and $10 student/senior individual seating. Go to juniorplayers.org/tickets for more information.
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