Teen center at YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard welcomes performers

(Left to right) Alistair Morgan, Oscar Hansen, and Jeremiah Roberts performed at the Base Collective's Open Stage night. — Photo by Gwyn McAllister

Anyone who walked into the YMCA Teen Center’s Open Stage event Friday evening expecting amateur night would have been pleasantly surprised at the level of sophistication exhibited by the performers. There’s some very serious talent among the Island’s teens.

The small Friday night audience included a few adults and some kids who travelled down from the upstairs space, drawn by the music. A trio of high schoolers on guitar and drums held an improv jam session. The three friends who have been playing as a unit for two years, all demonstrated impressive musical skills and cohesion as a unit.

Budding poet Tyler Paulson, a Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School junior, took the stage twice to read three of his spoken word pieces. It was the first time he had read any of his work before an audience.

Tyler delivered his work in a rhythmic style and commented afterwards that he writes his work with a beat in his head. His poems spoke to social issues and had a very positive spin. “Even if one person has been changed by it, it’s worth getting up there,” he said. “It’s another way of thinking. Life doesn’t have to be so negative.”

Tyler’s older brother Joshua also read a poem inspired by a hunger project he participated in while in college.

A blistering drum solo by Maddie Scott brought audience members to their feet. Ms. Scott, who recently completed a summer program at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, is a self-taught drummer who uses the difficult double pedal method. Her self-composed drum solo was an effective stand-alone piece exhibiting both exceptional compositional and performance skills.

Ms. Scott is a regular participant in the Open Stage nights. After her performance, she said, “I used to be really nervous, but now I just want to get up there and play.”

Since the new Teen Center opened in January, the Base Collective, a below-ground nightclub-style performance space, has been serving double duty as a room for teen dances and other 18 and under events, and a venue for shows and showcases that are open to the general public. The Open Stage events are an example of the latter, and teens as well as adults have been taking advantage of the opportunity to perform in front of an audience. All ages and all type of performers are welcome.

“The Base is our bridge to the community,” said Teen Center director Tony Lombardi, “The idea of it being a collective is that it’s a multi-purpose facility that will offer not only musical performances but dance, spoken word, poetry, plays and clean comedy.”

Over the course of this past summer, the Base’s stage has been graced by off-Island entertainers ranging from a marimba band from Santa Fe, a nationally recognized spoken word artist and a hip hop performer from New York who came with a dance crew. Folk singer Ellis Paul, the recipient of 14 Boston Music Awards and a key figure in the recent folk revival, played to a sold-out audience and country singer Kevin Montgomery stopped by on his 50 states in 50 days tour.

The Community Open Stage events have attracted locals and tourists alike. This fall and winter Mr. Lombardi hopes to host at least one public performance by a local or visiting artist every month.

He is now in the process of launching an entrepreneurship program to involve kids in all phases of the entertainment business. “The Base Collective is going to be run by teens under the mentorship of professionals,” he said. “They will be learning how to run a business by using this as a model. Kids will be designing the events and working to make them successful. It will put some really solid entrepreneurial skills into the pocket of the kids who participate.” Mr. Lombardi encourages anyone in the community with applicable skills to get involved as a mentor.

Another new program about to be initiated is the Adrenaline Music Project. “We’ll create three different bands of kids,” Mr. Lombardi said. “These kids will have to work together to create the bands and the bands’ identity working with professionals in the fields of music and entertainment.” Among those involved are Laurel Redington and Ray Whitaker of MVY radio and musician, graphic artist, and film editor J.B. Lamont, as well as a host of local musicians.

Open for less than a year now, the teen center (recently renamed Alex’s Place — a shortening of its original name the Alexandra Gagnon Teen Center) has launched a number of skill- and confidence-building programs for kids. Among them, the Digital Connectors Program, which encompasses a wide range of technical skills in a eight week workshop, is still accepting applications for this year’s program starting this week. All of the aforementioned programs, including the teen center’s state-of-the-art recording studio, have been funded in large part by Comcast.

Alex’s Place features a spacious well-lit upstairs facility with an open kitchen, comfortable lounge area and a bank of computers.

Downstairs, the Base Collective is a large space with a number of lounge-style tables and chairs, a raised stage supplied with drum kit, mics and sophisticated sound equipment, a separate sound booth in the rear of the room, a pool table and pinball machines.

Aside from the fact that the venue is alcohol-free, it has the look and feel of an attractive bar/nightclub. A colorful mural executed by teen artists decorates one entire wall. The recording studio in the back corner is available to young performers interested in producing their work.

Open Stage begins at 7 pm every Friday. Sign-up starts at 6 pm. The charge is $5 (if you can afford it). All ages are welcome. Alex’s Place and the Base Collective are located at the far righthand side of the YMCA building on Edgartown/Vineyard Haven Road, across from the high school. For more information, call 508-696-7171 or go to www.ymcamv.org.