Amoria Burks always felt at home in the theater. Both of her parents are actors, and she remembers the feelings that were evoked the first time she hit the stage. 

The “one performance that changed everything,” Burks said, was when she played Jan in a high school production of “Grease.” She was going through personal problems at the time, and for her the stage was an escape.

Now, thanks to the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, the Montclair State University student is taking advantage of the opportunity to continue working in theater as a fellow in the
Career Accelerator Program.  The program is a six-month paid fellowship that chooses three emerging theater professionals of color out of a pool of 35 applicants to work with local theater companies and learn about theater administration and management in a real- world context. 

Alongside being partnered with theater companies, fellows have the opportunity to participate in professional development seminars and personal mentorship meetings.

"New Jersey Theatre
Alliance created this program because we know that there are many incredible early-career theater makers of color not yet connected to the professional theater community in New Jersey,” said Erica Nagel, deputy
director of the Alliance.

A commuter student from Teaneck, Burks is a senior theater studies major at the university. She heard about the Career Accelerator Program from a professor who decided that she would be a great addition to the next class of fellows. 

Seeing theater become more inclusive and diverse is a goal that she plans to work toward. During her fellowship, she has worked with Luna Stage in West Orange. She will also be working with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and Yendor Theatre Company in Newark. 

During her time at Luna Stage, Burks had the opportunity to watch a play come to life from the start of production to the final curtain call. She was hands-on in the production of “Torn Asunder,” which follows an emancipated African American woman trying to find her family after slavery. 

Plays like “Torn Asunder” fueled Burks’ drive to bring more Black stories to the stage. 

“I've actually learned a lot about how many stories can come  from Black
history,” she said. “Especially back when my ancestors were enslaved, that it wasn't always just hardship and drama, it was also love and family that came up out of that time, even though we were oppressed.” 

Though she still has three months to go in her fellowship, Burks is already taking the knowledge she has gained as an actor and applying it to the work she does behind the scenes as a fellow. 

“I was able to think of everybody because I know how I felt as a performer when people wouldn't think of me and what I think and what I can handle,” she said.  

Burks said the program has built her confidence and has made her feel comfortable speaking up in professional situations.

“Performers do have a voice as well,” she said. “And it's important to listen to what they're saying …
because theater is a collaborative art.” 

Her fellowship is another credit that Burks can add to her list of accomplishments. She’s worked on productions for Paramount Pictures, the Food Network and Disney. In the future, she intends to start her own production company. 

Through her fellowship she hopes to learn the skills needed to help break barriers for Black people in the entertainment industry. 

“I hope to contribute to opening the door for other Black artists to have this opportunity as well, because I believe that it's really a systematic thing,” she said. 

“And it starts from backstage to onstage … Black people should also be making decisions, people of color should get the chance onstage to shine, but also have somebody backing them up who really centers their voice.”