After the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis inspired the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, a consortium of children’s theaters across the United States banded together to address the issue of racism.

The result is A Kids Play About Racism, co-produced by 41 children’s theaters led by the Bay Area Children’s Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre, and Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, and including the Magik Theatre in San Antonio. All are members of the Theatre for Young Audiences USA advocacy organization.

Billed as a “virtual premiere,” the free online production will stream Aug. 1-2 on the Broadway on Demand video platform.

Though the coronavirus pandemic has largely shut down live performance nationwide, leaders of youth theaters have met weekly to discuss coping strategies and future planning. A Kids Play About Racism grew out of those conversations, said Anthony Runfola, artistic director of the Magik Theatre.

“It’s so hard to do anything right now,” he said. “But working collectively we were able to put something together as one unified voice and response to what’s happening with race relations at the moment.”

The new play is adapted from A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory. A YouTube video of the 2019 book being read by the author has been viewed more than 240,000 times.

The starkly-designed book’s first pages begin:

This is a book about racism.
For reals!
And yes, it really is for kids.
It’s a good book to read with a grownup.
Because you’ll have lots to talk about afterward.

Runfola said at first he found it hard to conceive of how the book could be adapted for the stage, but said he admired the approach of actor and director Khalia Davis, who created the adaptation and directed the video play.

In the announcement for the show, Davis said adapting the book for children’s theater “meant we were recognizing the importance of including children in these difficult conversations. This show embraces the full spectrum of emotional response children may have as they navigate comprehending racism and how it may affect them.”

Focusing on those emotions, Davis created characters based on the feelings racism, and overcoming its effects, create in those who are its victims: Rage, Panic, Disgust, Delight, and Love.

Phoenix actor Rapheal Hamilton will play the role of Love and said he admires Davis for her passion in communicating the complex topic in a way kids can understand. “It’s a subject that they’ve experienced, but sometimes they get overlooked because they’re children,” Hamilton said.

“The kids get overlooked and people think that they don’t have emotions and feelings and experiences, and sometimes they struggle with even knowing how to express it,” he said. “This show really helps give [them] that.”

He said the process of participating in the play was exciting, “but it was also challenging, because we really had to face some things in conversations we had within the cast and crew about our own experiences. So we had to uncover a lot, to give an honest take to the kids.”

As a young Black man growing up in the South, born in Florida, then living in Memphis, and now Arizona, Hamilton said he has experienced racism in many forms.

He said he has often had to change his behavior “because of someone else’s either dislike or misunderstanding or misinterpretation of who I am as a Black man. I can’t freely express myself without it being taken as aggression, or I can’t be too passionate in conversations or exchanges without it being perceived” wrongly, he said.

“This play is so important because it starts young, and kids are so able to absorb things at a higher rate,” Hamilton said. “We can start having these conversations with them early, … that it’s okay for us to be different races and different backgrounds and different cultures and different socioeconomic standings. … It shouldn’t be perceived negatively. Because people still have emotions and we all experience emotions, that’s the thing that makes us human.”

Echoing his own character in the play, he said, A Kids Play About Racism comes from “a place of love,” and for its capacity to promote empathy, he’s grateful to participate.

“For me to be able to use my gift to initiate a conversation that can literally change people’s lives, that right there alone was something for me to want to be a part of it.”

Information on free access to the play is available here. Broadway on Demand account registration is required.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...