ArtsView Children’s Theatre is breaking new ground in the organization’s history with its next production, “Amazing Grace.”
The play, which will be staged May 23 to May 25, marks the first time the Longview theater has produced a show where the lead role is designed for a black female, with two other key black female characters as well.
The play was adapted for stage by Shay Youngblood from Mary Hoffman’s children’s book. It tells the story of a little girl who loves acting out stories told to her by her grandmother. Her grandmother, Nana, believes that Grace can be whatever she wants. During auditions for a school play, though, Grace is told she can’t try out for the role of Peter Pan because she is a girl and because of the color of her skin. With Nana’s encouragement, Grace rises to the occasion to shine on stage.
“I first read this play in 2016 and absolutely fell in love with the story of Grace, and knew ArtsView had to bring this to our stage,” Michelle Norris, ArtsView’s general manager and creative director, said in an email. “Grace is not only an adventurous and smart girl, she’s also brave, caring, a leader and creative — I think that’s what a lot of girls want to be, and Grace embodies these traits perfectly. I thought her character would inspire the girls (and boys) of our community to read, to daydream, and maybe join us at the theater from time to time.”
Norris said some of ArtsView’s theatrical connections around the state questioned whether the theatre would be able to produce a show with three black female leads and fill a diverse cast.
“Diversity is lacking in theater, especially in East Texas, and it was important to ArtsView to showcase the diversity of our kids and teens who join us throughout the year at our theater,” Norris said. “ArtsView prides itself on being inclusive, and this is another way to show our community that we are and we do support every child or teen who wants to be on the stage or behind the scenes.”
Many students read “Amazing Grace” in elementary school, and Norris said the girl’s struggles are realistic.
“I know there are children in our community who have been told they can’t do something because they are a girl or because of their skin color, or whatever may be the case, and through this performance, children and teens can glean hope, self-confidence, and an understanding that differences should never be a barrier to being your best self,” Norris said. “This is a great story and one that I hope everyone comes to see.”