Who will get to play The World Games Plaza?
On a Saturday in late May, 16 artists auditioned for the second round of The World Games Talent Search. Earlier this year, The World Games put out an open call for musicians, singers, dancers, and entertainers to perform for visitors from all over the world during the international sports competition this July in Birmingham.
Selected performers will showcase their talents at The World Games Plaza at Citywalk BHAM, the massive park under the I-59/20 bridge in downtown Birmingham between 15th Street North and 25th Street North.
Citywalk BHAM is the result of the expansion of I-59/20. Currently under construction, the 10-block, 31-acre development includes a green space behind the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Boutwell Auditorium. Once complete, the project will have a mix of special features including green spaces, game courts, public art, and a performance area.
The pavilion for Citywalk BHAM is currently under construction. Once complete, the pavilion will house a number of features including green spaces and a performing area. (Shauna Stuart| AL.com)
A four-block portion of Citywalk BHAM will be dedicated to The World Games, which run from July 7 to the 17th.
The area, which is sponsored by Regions Bank, will be called The World Games Plaza.
“In this particular plaza, there will be a stage and we’ll have programming every day from 3 p.m. until 9 p.m.,” said Kathy Boswell, the Executive Vice President of Community and Volunteer Engagement for The World Games 2022. “We’ve carved out a moment on that stage every single day to feature local talent from across Birmingham, Alabama and across the different states.”
The plaza, says Boswell, will house activities sponsored by a number of organizations including Regions Bank, Shipt, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Mercedes Benz. The plaza will also host a merchant market with a number of vendors.
“The stage will be there as well, and that will feature entertainment from 3:00 to 9:00 across the 10 days of the games, and these artists will have a chance to be featured there. So, it’s pretty exciting,” said Boswell.
Acts on The World Games Plaza stage will be a complement to the roster of musicians performing at Protective Stadium during the opening and closing ceremonies of the games, an all-star lineup that includes Alabama, Yolanda Adams, Nelly, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and Young Bleu. Leading the charge will be Parliament-Funkadelic veteran and space-age bassist Bootsy Collins, who will grace the stage as the master of ceremonies.
Artists showed up at the Boutwell Auditorium in downtown Birmingham on a sunny Saturday morning. Some stood outside the performance hall chatting and rehearsing their selections.
Inside, the auditorium was quiet except for the sounds of laughing and light banter as World Games staff checked in musicians and walked them to the small audition waiting area behind a shroud of black curtains.
Vulcan and Vesta, The World Games mascots, milled about in jovial silence, waving, hugging people, and shaking hands.
The waiting area was mostly calm. Some artists tuned their instruments, set up equipment, and contemplated the number of songs to perform. Others took sips from complimentary bottles of water.
Inside the audition room, Boswell sat with additional three judges: Tuskegee’s Lady K, who was a top 10 finalist on the 20th season of American Idol; award-winning gospel artist and minister Pastor Mike McClure, Jr., who will also be performing in the World Games ceremonies; and Sharifa Wip, the Mentor Program Coordinator at University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Office of Student Multicultural and Diversity Programs. Wip, who heads a number of fine arts and design projects, will lead the efforts around the run of show and staging for The World Games.
Between performances, Boswell explained The World Games talent search process to members of the media who were invited to attend a portion of the auditions.
After receiving more than 130 submissions to the competition, The World Games narrowed the selection to 16 bands and artists from Alabama and surrounding states. The goal that Saturday was to choose the final round of performers for the plaza.
The judges graded each audition that day with a rubric and issued scores based on the artists’ preparation, delivery, quality, stage presence, and creativity.
After each performance– which included a range of selections from bluegrass to rock, soul, and classical music– Boswell, McClure, Wip, and Lady K gave notes of praise and critique.
Logan The Entertainer, who auditioned with a full band, performed energetic covers including “Uptown Funk” and “Crazy in Love —a rousing set that brought the judges to their feet.
“You turned the room into a whole concert!” said Lady K “All y’all brought energy.”
“I paid attention to how you walked in together,” Boswell said to the group. “(You all) walked in and greeted us with a smile. If you come in together, it speaks volumes about how you work together.”
Logan beamed as he and his band packed up their equipment. “I want the world to see me and I want to see the world!” he said as he left the room.
Classical pianist Ahmun Miles’ audition included a performance of the theme from
“Schindler’s List,” a film which swept the 1994 Academy Awards with seven wins, including the Oscar for “Best Original Score.”
After her set, Miles told the judges she was initially nervous to perform after Logan. The judges, however, told her to “stand” in her talent.
Visibly moved and intrigued by her performance, their faces lit up when Miles said she was the founder of Piaministry School of Music in Bessemer, which offers private lessons in piano, guitar, voice, and music production.
Despite one of the judges’ critiques that Miles should “research her audience” next time she goes to an audition, all four judges enthusiastically asked how they could support her musical projects after The World Games conclude.
“When the games are over, we’re still going to be here, in the community,” Boswell told Miles.
Boswell is passionate about the outreach aspect of The World Games. She says The Games have been intentional about showcasing talent, diversity, and inclusivity.
“So when you begin to think about community, community is about identifying those groups of people who already have a common ground around something,” said Boswell. “And one of the most rich things outside of food that people have a common ground around here is art and talent.”
A few of The World Games community engagement efforts include projects for high school students. Late last year, The Games put out an open call for Alabama high schoolers to submit designs for its 2022 art design competition. The designs will be sold as posters and limited edition t-shirts, and all proceeds will be donated to the Birmingham Promise. The Games have also partnered with Create Birmingham to recruit high school student entrepreneurs for its merchant market on The Plaza. The two organizations launched a five-week virtual series to help youth develop marketing strategies and start their small business.
This summer’s upcoming games will be the first time the competition has been on U.S. soil since 1981 when the Santa Clara, Cali. hosted the inaugural World Games competition in 1981.
“To have the privilege and the gift of it to come to Birmingham, Alabama in over 40 years is really something special,” said Boswell. ” Because when you think about our place in history, Birmingham, Alabama is really in the books in and around civil rights. And (we will) have 108 countries that will have athletes being represented here, coming to Birmingham for the World Games.”
“This will give us a chance in 2022 for people to come and to see a better Birmingham,” Boswell continued. “And I say this everywhere I go. Not a perfect Birmingham, but a better Birmingham. And one of the best things that Birmingham has to offer is its people. ”
Artists will find out if they have been selected to perform on The Plaza by early June. The World Games expects to unveil the full lineup of activities on The Plaza, including vendors and performing artists, in the coming weeks.