My partner, Randy, and I arrived to ImaginOn with our 7-month-old for Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s PlayPlay! “Psshh”, with truly no idea what to expect. One of the perks of parent writing is getting to experience things I would otherwise merely glance over while I keep cleaning the countertops for the 800th time.
I’ve been to ImaginOn countless times and have seen a handful of plays there with my older two children, typically as a preschool or elementary chaperone. This time, while the bigs were in school, I went with only my own child to watch over and engage with as we watched a performance that sounded, well, superfluous.
When I was first approached by the Children’s Theatre, who so kindly offered my family and me tickets to this show geared for children ages 3 and younger—that’s right, 0-3—I was immediately skeptical. A play for a 3-year-old, sure. But a baby?
Have these people met babies? Do these people know what babies do in public settings? They cry, they squirm, they poop and they certainly do not watch plays. In fact, they are typically banned from plays (and board meetings, and bars, to name a few other baby-free spaces).
Walking timidly to the entrance of the Wells Fargo Playhouse just inside ImaginOn, we were met with a gaggle of moms playing with their toddlers on a carpet, eagerly awaiting the start of the play, many of them making it known that they were PlayPlay! veterans, not to be confused with the novice attendees like myself within their midst. Veteran or not, these moms all had one thing in common: whiteness.
As a mother of a mixed race daughter in the company of my Hispanic partner, her father, I found myself slouching back, feeling almost icky, like I walked right into a post in Stuff White People Like. (Y’all remember that, right?)
I didn’t intend on my time at this play and curious outing geared toward my daughter to be fraught with disproportionate racial representation, nor did I expect myself to be so taken aback by it. I was at a play for babies, not a march in Marshall Park. This was not the setting for outrage.
I reached out to Jared Misner, media relations and social media manager for Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.
“PlayPlay! Theatre, by its very nature of its show times during the weekday afternoons, is not always an accurate representation of our larger theatre audience,” he says. “To give you a better idea of who sits in our seats throughout the year, more than a third of our audience members last year were people of color.”
In fact, Jared tells me, for their season opener “Mary Poppins” (which my family and I plan on attending) the title role has been cast by Janeta Jackson, an African-American actor. And beyond the stage, The Children’s Theatre partners with leading publications, The Charlotte Post and QCitymetro, while also offering scholarships for both tickets and after-school programs, giving away some 390 educational scholarships and 1,086 tickets. Lower-income families can enjoy programming for as low as $2 per ticket.
This play was incredible, which I should certainly mention. We walked not to theater seats but onstage, where couches and floor cushions were set up, putting us face-to-face with the action.
There were two actors saying “Psshhh” over and over, waving felt butterflies and flowers and umbrellas with sunshines and blue silk for water. My daughter was mesmerized, as were the other children (though much older) in attendance.
My mama-hormones kicked in and I basically cried every time the actors made eye contact with my daughter and as she reached for the props used so delicately, giving the up-close stage performance the feel of a live-action PBS special. It was magical. We all loved it and will certainly go again.
Our political climate may leave us feeling as though our city is racially divided with no hope of forward movement. I certainly felt that way walking into this performance. After thoughtful communication with the folks behind the theatre, though, I found a hope and a shining light that people are putting forth the work to close this gap, to make all cultural amenities available to all portions of our city’s population.
PlayPlay! was a great performance for us to experience as a family and now, knowing what I know about their goals for diversity and inclusion, I can take my family knowing that all of us will be represented, as well as other ethnicities, and there is truly something for everyone.
Photo Credit: Randy Rivera
This story was written for CharlotteFive’s latest channel for parents in the QC, called QC Playground. Sign up for the weekly QC Playground newsletter here.