Crawford overcomes obstacles, has Broadway dreams
Cherokee Nation citizen Bretly Crawford, right, studies with noted mezzo-soprano opera singer Barbara McAlister, who has helped him find his voice as a theater performer. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation citizen Bretly Crawford’s ultimate goal is to perform on Broadway in New York City. While training for it, he’s overcome obstacles that he’s channeled into his performances.
Growing up in Park Hill, and being raised by his grandmother, Crawford did not have an easy childhood. He said his parents were barely in his life, and he credits his grandmother for his start in the performing arts as a child.
“When I started getting into performing arts it kind of snowballed from one thing to another,” he said. “After my father had passed is when I started to withdraw a lot more from society, and I didn’t know how to interact with people anymore until I took this creative movement class.”
After performing in his fifth-grade year at Tahlequah Middle School, Crawford knew he wanted to learn more.
“That was the first time I got the taste of performing, and I realized in that class that I started to open up to others and that I started to kind of enjoy being with others and doing things again,” he said. “I told my grandmother, I said ‘I need formal dance lessons. That is something that brings joy in my life that nothing has been able to and has kind of given me a place in the world.’ She said, ‘OK let’s sign you up.’”
In junior high, he began training with CN citizen and noted mezzo-soprano opera singer Barbara McAlister. He said his voice began changing and it was McAlister who helped him along the way.
“At that point I had been in the (Cherokee National) youth choir for a short while, but within that period my voice started changing. So I went from this beautiful tiny soprano voice to something that couldn’t articulate more than three notes maybe,” he said. “I had lost my confidence that I wasn’t going to be able to sing beyond that anymore. She just built me a foundation for vocal technique as I started to understand my new voice.”
As he continued lessons, Crawford started doing community theater, school plays and full-length ballets. While attending Sequoyah High School, he knew he wanted to study performing arts in college.
“That’s when I really fell in love with the art. I knew as soon as I was a freshman in high school I wanted to go to school for this,” he said.
He initially wanted to attend Oklahoma City University because of its prestige and noted alumni such as McAlister.
“As I started to visit schools my junior and senior year, I started to realize it’s not all about the money that schools put into it, and it’s not all about the prestige. It’s about the training, and it’s more about the individual as to whether you succeed in what you do in anything,” Crawford said.
He said he found his “niche” at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
“I enjoyed the people there. I knew that the training was good. I had seen one of their shows I think at one point, and that’s when I decided for sure,” he said.
While he thrived in performing arts, a family matter arose that forced him to take a semester break from school to tend to his ill grandmother, who passed. He plans to go back to UCO in the fall and credits his grandmother for who he is. “If it weren’t for Reva Mae Crawford, I wouldn’t have anything in this life,” he said.
Crawford is double majoring in musical theater and dance performance at UCO as he plans to work in theater for a living.
“I plan on taking those all the way to New York and trying to find myself as an artist and making a living through that because that’s what makes me the most happy,” he said.
Crawford is also one a recipient of the Timothy Long Prize, a CN award that goes to a voice student “who exhibits an intense passion and intuitive ability in the musical arts” as judged by McAlister.
“I’ve been friends with Barbara for a long time, and we’ve had hundreds of lessons together,” he said. “I definitely am thankful for Barbara for doing everything she can to push my career as a performer out there to others.”