KALAMAZOO, Mich. – “Amazing Grace,” a lighthearted youth play about dreaming big dreams interlaced with serious moments about handling discrimination, is the next production of Face Off Theatre Company of Kalamazoo's Black Arts & Cultural Center. It is an adaptation of Shay Youngblood’s popular children's book by the same name.
The show will be staged May 16-19, 2019 at the Jolliffe Theatre at the Epic Center in downtown Kalamazoo at 359 S. Kalamazoo Mall. One of the five performances will be sensory friendly, an exciting first for the company.
"What I hope for the audience to gain by this piece is that we need to start having conversations with our children at a young age on the topic of Inclusiveness and what that looks like and means," says Face Off Co-Founder Bianca Washington, who is directing the production. "These young people are the next generation who will be inventing and shaping the future world that we will live in. If we teach them now, they will be so much further ahead of us."
The central character is Grace, a girl who loves acting out of stories that her Trinidad-born grandmother tells as well as ones she reads on her own or makes up. Grace takes on fictional and real-life personas like Anansi the Spider, Joan of Arc, the boy Mowgli from "The Jungle Book,” and legendary Indian Chief Hiawatha.
It is not until two classmates tell Grace she can't be Peter Pan in the school play because she is a girl and because she is black that she encounters discrimination. We get to witness how she proves them wrong.
The 20-member cast is anchored by Kalamazoo third-grader Laylah Daniel, 8, as Grace; local spoken-word artist Tasleem Jamila as the wise grandmother; and Desiray Moses-LaBarge as Grace’s supportive mother. This is the first Face Off Theatre Company production for the three leading women.
Face Off Company Member Earlene McMichael makes an appearance as Grace's teacher. McMichael was in last year's youth show, "Rich Soil."
About Face Off Theatre Company Face Off Theatre Company launched in 2015 as the theatrical arm of the Black Arts & Cultural Center in Kalamazoo. It is devoted to thought-provoking Black theater and the development of playwrights of color, drawing audiences from throughout Southwest Michigan to its performances at the Epic Center’s Judy K. Jolliffe Theatre and nearby artistic venues. For more: faceofftheatre.com
About the Black Arts & Cultural Center The Black Arts & Cultural Center, headquartered at downtown Kalamazoo's Epic Center, is widely known for its annual Black Arts Festival since founding in 1986. The organization develops the potential and creativity in Blacks in the Kalamazoo area, advances the awareness of Black artistic ability, helps to preserve Black cultural heritage and enhance interactions among diverse groups. For more:blackartskalamazoo.org
PHOTO CAPTION: From left: Desiray Moses-LaBarge, Laylah Daniel and Tasleem Jamila star as Ma, Grace and Nana, respectively, in "Amazing Grace" coming May 16-19, 2019 to the Epic Center. (Photo credit: Alicia I. Swift)
"What I hope for the audience to gain by this piece is that we need to start having conversations with our children at a young age on the topic of Inclusiveness and what that looks like and means" Bianca Washington Director, Amazing Grace