The special Tony Award for educators goes to Baltimore community artist CJay Philip

The special Tony Award that honors educators is going to a Baltimore-based actor, educator, choreographer and Broadway veteran who has created arts opportunities for everyone from kindergartners to senior citizens. CJay Philip, founder and artistic director of the multidisciplinary ensemble Dance & Bmore, will receive the 2024 Excellence in Theatre Education Award on June 16 at the Tony Awards in New York City. JESSICA STONE, WHO KNITS BROADWAY AND CIRCUS IN THRILLING 'WATER FOR ELEPHANTS,' ENJOYS A TONY NOD "There’s this power in the arts to reconnect us to one another and to our humanity," she told The Associated Press ahead of the announcement. "There’s a civic duty that I have as a creative to contribute." Dance & Bmore has free programs for practically everyone, from preschoolers and their families to teens and adults of all ages, with its participants representing 20 of the 49 zip codes in Baltimore. It's AMP Camp introduces children in grades three to six to onstage and offstage production skills, like lighting design and stage management, letting them know "all of the opportunities that could be waiting them in theater and theater making from behind the scenes." Teens get to star and create Hardy's adaptation of the opera "Carmen," which travels around the city during the summer. AMP Up brings together youth and industry professionals as mentors to work on paid internships, resume-writing, job interview tips, financial literacy and creative writing. There are also music and movement programs for adults. "We’re making deep, meaningful human connections through music, movement and theater at every age and stage of life. Dance & Bmore is creating a progression of programs that take you through a lifetime." The annual Excellence in Theatre Education Award bestowed by the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University recognizes U.S. educators who have "demonstrated exemplary impact on the lives of students and who embodies the highest standards of the profession." Before moving to Baltimore in 2010, Philip began her career with the Maude Baum Modern Dance Company and Burundi African Dance in upstate New York. She later taught at the Baltimore School for the Arts and Baltimore Center Stage. The Albany, New York, native made her Broadway debut in "Big the Musical" in 1996 and was dance captain for the original "Hairspray" directed by Jack O’Brien. She has toured as Lorrell in "Dreamgirls" and Paulette in "Legally Blonde." As a sign of her versatility and range, she was the second assistant stage manager in "Street Corner Symphony," as well as ready-to-go-on for three of the leads at a moment's notice and do split leaps. "Literally I’ve been in a headset and turned around and seen the wig people running at me with a costume going, ‘Somebody’s going down, CJay. It is your time to shine.’" Philip turned her experiences onstage into a performing arts school, taking notes all the time, asking questions and showing up at the theater on days she wasn't expected just to soak it up. "Mentorship was so much a key part of me becoming the type of performer that I wanted to be and the type of performer I respected. And so that’s how we teach with Dance & Bmore," she says. The award includes a $10,000 prize and a pair of tickets to the Tony ceremony and gala. Philip’s students will also receive a visiting master class taught by Carnegie Mellon drama professors. A panel of judges comprised of the American Theatre Wing, The Broadway League, Carnegie Mellon and other leaders from the theater industry selects the winner, based on candidates submitted by the public. "Her unwavering dedication to providing her students with a safe space to foster their knowledge of theatre and build their confidence, while actively creating inclusive and accessible roles and programs, has instilled a passion and respect for the performing arts in the generations to come," Jason Laks, interim president of The Broadway League and Heather Hitchens, president and CEO of the American Theatre Wing, said in a statement. Philip's trip to New York City will be a homecoming, back to the world of Broadway she once performed in. One of the Tony nominees is Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, who Philip worked with on "Hairspray." "It feels so full circle," she says.

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