INTERVIEWS Stage talk
A talk show for kids by kids.
That’s what “Konversations with Keeme” is designed to be and 13-year-old host Ajibola “Keeme” Tajudeen of Bridgeport has proven his ability to interview theater and media folks ranging from “Aladdin” star Juwan Alan Crawley to longtime Channel 8 anchorman Keith Kountz.
The freshman at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in New Haven says he has gained confidence with each new episode of the show on the Broadway World website, and is looking forward to the launch of the second season in November.
“I wasn’t sure if it would be a good fit for me. I look at the early episodes and I cringe a bit ... but I’ve gotten comfortable with it,” Keeme says of season one.
“When they turn the camera on your face it can be very nerve-racking. But now it feels like this is where I belong and where God wants me to be,” he adds.
“Konversations with Keeme” focuses on tips from the guests about achieving goals and anecdotes detailing how they managed to find a career on stage or in the media.
Jaden Bonfietti, 16, who is a junior at Foran High School in Milford, shoots and edits the show.
When Jaden and Keeme came to the offices of Hearst Connecticut Media Group in Norwalk to record a segment with me about journalism, I was impressed by their poise and their professionalism, and by the way they edited a 30-minute conversation down to a five-minute show.
“Sometimes it’s a bit of a challenge,” Jaden says of her post-production work. “But we try to focus on the material that reflects our mission of helping young people to step up and be ready to be leaders.”
The show is the brainchild of Kristin Huffman, producing artistic director of the New Paradigm Theatre, which has been putting on musicals at the Fairfield Theatre Company. Keeme and Jaden are are on the theater’s youth board.
“I am always looking for ways to involve the youth board because they want their voices heard — they’re part of a generation that wants to tell you what they think,” Huffman says of today’s high schoolers’ obsession with social media and smart phone communication.
“Our production of ‘Hunchback’ had more adults than kids, so I wanted a special project to use the kids,” she adds.
The results were so good that Huffman decided to move forward with the “Konversations” series.
“What I didn’t expect was how smooth Keeme is and how charming he is on camera,” Huffman says. “I helped them work on the style of the show, but they took the ball and ran with it.”
Huffman has worked as a professional actress and singer. During her long run in the Tony-winning revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” she started doing a behind-the-scenes blog for the Broadway World website.
“Broadway World was just starting then — they were getting 10,000 hits a day — and I wrote about backstage chatter,” she says. Her pioneering Internet work took place before Twitter exploded, giving every stage performer their own forum.
“I remember the producers saying those young (Internet) people aren’t our audience,” she recalls. “I said they might not buy the most expensive tickets but they’ll come back 10 times, and they did.”
When young people take a show like “Newsies” or “Anastasia” to heart, they do come back again and again, and they have become an important segment of the Broadway audience.
In the years since the “Company” blog, Broadway World has grown into one of the preeminent theater websites. They had just launched “Broadway World junior” for school kids when Huffman approached them about being the exclusive Internet location for “Konversations with Keeme.”
“They understood the idea right away,” Huffman says.
For Keeme, the success of the talk show has the young actor thinking about a possible career in television.
“This is such an amazing opportunity and I hope to keep developing my style with each new season,” he says.
See Keeme’s talk show at www.broadwayworld.com