Hope, hip hop and collaboration
It started with an idea a few years ago, got rolling with a local playwright, gained momentum with an online fundraising campaign, and came to fruition Thursday evening: “Indigo Blue,” the Walltown Children’s Theatre musical being performed this weekend at the Durham Arts Council.
Playwright Howard L. Craft wrote a reimagining of the Pied Piper tale, updated to a diverse city where a 12 year-old girl saves the day, and the children, from rapper Marvin the Magnificent (Daniel Johnson) after he led the kids away when the mayor didn’t pay him for ridding the city of rats. Abigail Garcia-Gomez, 9, a fourth-grader at Club Boulevard Elementary School, plays SpeakHer, Marvin’s speaker sidekick along with SpeakHim (Khayree Dixon).
Abigail has been taking classes at Walltown Children’s Theatre since she was 3.
“I like that we can feel like we belong here, and the teachers are really nice,” she said. “We get a chance to be on stage and have a good time in a show.”
WCT is a nonprofit for underserved kids in the Walltown area of Durham and open to all children regardless of ability to pay. WCT offers classes, tutoring and summer programs. It held auditions for “Indigo Blue” in August after a successful Indigogo online campaign that raised $5,000.
Cynthia Penn, WCT’s artistic and executive director, choreographed “Indigo Blue.” It is directed by Karen Dacons-Brock, an adjunct theater professor at N.C. Central University, with music composed by jazz vocalist Lenora Zenzalai Helm, who is also an assistant music professor at NCCU. When Dacons-Brock introduced Penn to Craft to write the adaptation, Penn knew it would be a wonderful fit for Walltown, she said. It has a message of hope, Penn said.
They’ve also had a lot of support from NCCU, she said.
“We only make it when people come together and support the kids,” Penn said. Twenty-eight youth are involved in “Indigo Blue.” Penn said part of WCT’s mission is to inspire youth leadership, noting that the stage manager, Mariana Gomez-Arceo, is 15 years old.
Korinn Annette Jefferies, 17, plays J.P. Snooper, a dog reporter pursuing the story of the missing children.
Jefferies, a senior at Durham School of the Arts, said her life goal is theater. “I really enjoy performing – being on stage is great,” she said. Her character gets her scoop from a gossiping lamppost, Lavern, played by Jessica Jones, who tells the tale of Mariposa’s plan to save the kids, with help from a retired cookie wrestler played by Jean Christian Barry.
Craft said we don’t see a lot of fairy tales with the girl as the hero instead of a princess. “Indigo Blue” is also about the idea of believing the impossible and people coming together to achieve it. Add hip hop and kung fu references, and you have a Howard Craft play, he said.
Helm spent six months composing the musical, adding music to Craft’s lyrics, which already had a sense of rhythm and melody, she said. When Helm and Craft saw the children performing the music, they got chills, she said. Eileena Boyce, who plays the hero Mariposa, has a beautiful voice, Helm said. The children and Walltown Children’s Theatre do a lot of hard work, she said, and have dedicated parents. Paula Nunn arranged the vocals with the children, and “put the wheels on” the music Helm said, listing several people involved in the production.
“This is a super collaborative project. Everybody needed each other,” she said.
During the play, Lavern the lamppost tells Snooper why Mariposa is the one to save the day.
“She’s got something better than magic! Willpower!” she said.
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: Walltown Children’s Theatre presents “Indigo Blue”
WHEN: 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. today, 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Durham Arts Council PSI Theatre
120 Morris St., Durham
TICKETS: 919-286-4545 or walltownchildrenstheatre.org