It was a week ago, on a Friday night out in Indy when Iattended a show called Star Midnight. Itwas a musical, very theatrical play about bullying in high school that waswritten and directed by Deborah Asante and performed by the Asante Children's Theatre. The play ran for two weekends in June at theMadame Walker Theatre Center on Indiana Avenue. There was some buzz about it;Asante does a great job of marketing their productions within the arts sceneand among the African American community.
I took the husband and kids with me as it was a great chanceto support local community theatre and to expose my daughters to theatre -specifically black theatre. I was completely blown away by the talent I saw.The show was amazing. I was surprised. Iwas happy I went and I am tempted to financially support ACT just so Indydoesn't lose a group like this.
What I enjoyed most was the confidence among that group ofyoung adults. There were at least 20 kids under 21 in that cast, some as youngas 10. They were bold, they were bright and colorful. Their dancing and singingcould contend with some of the most talented artists. These kids were fearlessand talented and were tackling a subject that we don't hear about much.Bullying is a widespread topic, yes, but this group took it from the angle oflight skin vs. dark skin within the black community. In one of the scenes a very fair skinnedgrandmother said to her dark skinned granddaughter as she got ready for school,"you know I don't like bright colors on dark people." Asante used humor to talkabout an issue that has plagued the black community for decades.
The audience seemed to love the show. There was laughter andcheering from beginning to end. Attimes, there was a bit too much noise from the audience but I'll chalk that upto this being community theatre and a family friendly environment.
After, I was able to chat with Keesha Dixon, the ExecutiveDirector for ACT and ask a few questions.
What was the impetusfor Star Midnight?
Keesha: The person who played Star came toACT when she was 8 years old. Being the color she was, she dealt with a lot ofissues. Watching her try to fend off and deal with that, we did a lot to helpher self confidence as well as other dark childrenthat we had. We noticed that when we would have auditions for lead parts, onlythe light skinned girls would audition. So that led us to have the conversationabout color and the standards of beauty in our society.
Why is important totalk about light skin vs. dark skin with our youth?
Keesha: This is something that goes on notonly in the black community but within many other cultures. The light vs. darkis prevalent within the Hispanic, Indian and Italian communities as well. It's important to make kids aware that thisdiscrimination by color still goes on. We try to help the kids understand that tohave color is to have power. They haveso much healthy melanin and are reflective of the Africans. In slave days, thedarker workers were in the fields - they worked the hardest and produced themost.
Why do we see so manyof your productions at Walker Theatre?
Keesha: The Walker is of historic value andmerit. It represents so much. When our children can perform on that stage,something magical happens to them. And something happens to their families.They're parents are proud to say "my children have performed on the Walkerstage!"
What does Asante need, if anything, to continue making animpact in Indy?
Keesha: We need our own space and financial support. We have to payfor the spaces we obtain. We'd like to see what it's like to offer the programto the young artists for free - without the quarterly fee to their parents. Ourwork is so important. Our shows are life changing. The young artists we workwith don't leave Asante, they come back and contribute. The choreography inStar Midnight was designed by an Asante alum who'sworking in Los Angeles now. He came back to teach our artists for this show. Weneed a place to call home, a place to come back to.
Interested in seeing an Asante production? Their annual holiday concert and food drivewill take place this December at various locations. In March they are presentinga musical salute to the greatest singing groups. For details, visit their website.