‘A God*Sib’s Tale’ heads to the stage

“A God*Sib’s Tale,” directed by Damron Russel Armstrong (center), director of Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City, was written by Pamela Baskin-Watson (left) and Nedra Dixon (right). (photo by Jim Barcus)

With support from the National Endowment for the Arts and in partnership with KC Melting Pot Theatre, Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City will present the play’s world premiere in January

Perhaps you were at the Blue Room in January 2022 for the workshopped version of “A God*Sib’s Tale,” or you read about it in KC Studio. January 2024 brings the opportunity to see Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City’s complete, perfected production at the Just Off Broadway Theatre.

A $15,000 NEA Grant for Arts Projects Award enabled the Black Rep to polish and finalize this locally created folk opera, which explores the “resilience of the Black feminine spirit,” according to revoicemusic.com.

Written by well-known KC artists Nedra Dixon, actress/director/writer, and Pamela Baskin-Watson, composer/musician/writer, “A God*Sib’s Tale” is the first production of Black Rep KC’s ARC: New Works Program and the third show of the 2023/24 season. In January 2022, the proposal for the play was selected for funding by OPERA America’s IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access) Grants Program.

As a world premiere written by two multi-talented Black women — and helmed by a Black director — “A God*Sib’s Tale” is “a feather in our cap,” says BRTKC Director Damron Russel Armstrong.

Following the well-received performance at The Blue Room, the creators set about taking it to the next level. “We are elated!” Baskin-Watson declared, “especially because now we can step away from those production hats, which will allow us to take in the piece, as seen through another lens.”

The play’s setting is rural Ohio in 1957. The town is up in arms after a mixed-race baby is born to a prominent white couple. The women of the church group fear “a whole lot of trouble starting to brew,” and indeed that trouble soon is clear in the sounds of crashing, glass breaking, and a raging fire outside their door, as they huddle inside the church.

Eight women take the stage to tell — and sing — the story. The sisterhood members range in age from 19 to 70-plus. Their personalities and individual histories are just as diverse, ranging from generous and optimistic to harsh and authoritative, sometimes funny. They include church leaders, a nursing student, rooming house proprietors and the pastor’s wife. There are secrets among them.

Yet “those elements are NOT what ‘A God*Sib’s Tale’ is about,” according to revoicemusic.com. “Those elements are the catalysts that force these women to open the windows to their inner souls and honestly examine their views of racism, hatred, self-acceptance, relationships and love. These revelations show each woman the necessity of finding and taking ownership of her intended place in the world, all the while navigating against the backdrop of racism.”

Auditions for “A God*Sib’s Tale” began in February 2023 and rehearsals started mid-December. Calls went out for “strong African American Legit Singers (classically trained, classical/classical musical theatre — think Audra McDonald), 2-32 bars, contrasting songs.” Some of the cast from the workshop are reprising their roles, but some were unavailable due to school and other commitments.

The music is “earthy, bluesy, gospel” with a bit of jazz thrown in. The songs from the workshop will remain but Baskin-Watson says, “I am busy expanding the orchestration to now include clarinet, flute, two violins, viola, cello, along with the piano, bass, drum, guitar ensemble.”

Armstrong estimates total expenses of around $50,000. He is working to raise additional funds for what he calls his “dream production” from BRT’s steady partners, which include the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Family Foundation, the Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts, the Francis Family Foundation, Missouri Arts Council and others.

“God’Sib” represents a godparent, a person selected, through extensive discussion during the ritual accompaniment of a sister in labor by the women of the village, to care for the child in case the mother cannot.

This all comes through in the play. The news of the baby explodes through the town in heat and anger but the women in the play, through long, involved debate and interaction, come to terms with it and find their mission. They will spread the message that love can conquer all. It’s up to us to foster tolerance and acceptance. But Sister Polk leaves us with the ultimate question which continues to ring true “will love ever be enough?”

“A God*Sib’s Tale” runs Jan. 12-21 in partnership with KC Melting Pot at the Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central St. For more information and tickets, www.brtkc.org.

Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith is an impassioned supporter of local performances of all types, who welcomes the  opportunity to promote them to KC Studio readers.

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