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Suffer the Children by Mariah Richardson

With Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner by COCA student Nikki Prodes

And A Day in the Life of Finnigan Daniels by COCA student Sophia Levinson

Now Streaming Online Until April 10

Recommended Ages 11 +

COCA begins a new tradition with its premiere of the COCAwrites Festival, a showcase of new work for multigenerational audiences created by a multigenerational team of theatre artists.

Resources: Learning About Our Community

Suffer the Children

Suffer the Children is a play by St. Louis playwright Mariah Richardson, a play in a series of plays about Delilah, a young girl exploring questions of community and coming-of-age in St. Louis. The school is on lock-down and surrounded by SWAT police. What does it all mean? This dramatic piece looks at the topical issues of race, white supremacy, gun violence, and immigration. Suffer the Children approaches these issues from real fears that children and many others in our society face, today. The play asks St. Louis audiences to lean in and listen to the words and seek restoration through the ideas of our young people. For the show’s Content Transparency, click here.

Student Play – Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner

The play is written by COCA student Nikki Prodes and follows two teenage girls as they navigate young love in a small town that does not support them. For the play’s Content Transparency, click here.

Student Play – A Day in the Life of Finnigan Daniels

A Day in the Life of Finnigan Daniels is about a fifteen-year-old girl who struggles with severe anxiety in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can see the effects of it in her daily life with ordinary things like going to school or even just walking through the street. But through her relationships with friends, family, and mentors, we see there is a light at the end of the tunnel. For the play’s Content Transparency, click here.

About COCAwrites

COCAwrites promotes the writing and development of new plays for multi-generational theatre audiences through collaboration and mentorship among professional and student playwrights, directors, actors, designers and dramaturgs. Students in this program workshop new plays and musicals written by professional composers and playwrights from around the country while having the chance to develop their own new plays and musicals with the mentorship of these leaders. This program combines directing, playwriting, acting, dramaturgy, design-tech, and stage management to bring professional and student written plays to life. COCA is thrilled to offer this training to students as new work gains attention and priority on all stages across America’s theatres.

Creative Team Bios

JACQUELINE THOMPSON (Director) is a Theatre Artist who has directed/performed with The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, The Black Rep, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Upstream, Mustard Seed, SATE, Metro Theater Company, and New Jewish Theatre. In March 2018, the St. Louis Post Dispatch recognized her as one of six women shaping St. Louis Arts and entertainment. She was also noted as one of St. Louis’ most versatile performers. She received a St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama as well as an Artist Fellowship from the Regional Arts Commission. Jacqueline Thompson was selected by the Theatre Communications Group (TCG, the national organization for theater) to participate in The Rising Leaders of Color program.  She is a proud member of Actors Equity Association and is an Associate Professor in the Communication and Media Studies Department at UMSL.

MARIAH RICHARDSON (Playwright) Mariah Richardson. A native of St. Louis, Missouri. Mariah received her BA in Communications from the University of New Mexico and an MFA from Smith College in Playwriting. Mariah is the author of the plays: all that…, Sistahs Indeed!, Delilah’s Wish, ¡Soy Yo!, Idris Elba is James Bond, Chasing the White Rabbit, Queen of the Ville: The Annie Malone Story, Functional: The Thelonious Monk Story, Love at the Rivers’ Edge, and most recently, Suffer the Children. Richardson received the Regional Arts $20,000 Fellowship in 2016. Was named to the Confluence Regional Writers Project with Shakespeare Festival St. Louis for 2019.  In 2018 she was SFTSL playwright fellow and helped rewrite Shakespeare in the Streets’ performance of Blow Winds. Currently, she is directing Milk Like Sugar at S. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley and playwright for SITS 2020: The Ville. Mariah is writer and producer of 4 short films, 5 of Cups, The Prince, Beautiful Hands, and Lies We Tell OurselvesBeautiful Hands and Lies We Tell Ourselves both screened at the St. Louis International Film Festival. Richardson has authored two children’s chapter book based on her character Madeline Delilah. Madeline Delilah is featured in the plays, all that…, Delilah’s Wish, and Suffer the Children. The goal is to turn Madeline Delilah into an animated series, a live action film, and a Broadway musical. She was an adjunct professor St. Louis Community College and Harris Stowe State University.  She has taught in after school programs, residences, and homeless shelters from Los Angeles to New England. Mariah’s goal is to combine all the things she loves; poetry, performance, film, and music together to create work that inspires others towards self-actualization and to continue to radiate the Creator Spirit within.

DELANEY PIGGINS (Producer and Lead Teaching Artist) is a St. Louis Theatre Artist. holds a BFA in Acting from The Conservatory of Theatre arts at Webster University. With COCA, Delaney teaches playwriting and acting and has worked as an associate producer on COCA’s Grand Opening Film to premiere in October, The COCAwrites: Plays on Zoom Festival, R+J and Other Balcony Speeches in collaboration with Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, and the 2019 production of Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963. Delaney’s play Burden of Proof premiered at SATE in 2018 and is slated to be produced this November by Exit Left Theatre Company in Holland, Michigan. As an actor, Delaney has worked with St. Louis companies including The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and The New Jewish Theatre. Delaney was also an Associate Producer on Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare in The Streets.

GABY RODRIGUEZ (Dramaturg) Gaby is a recent graduate director of The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University. Favorite directing credits include Miss You Like Hell, Fefu and Her Friends, Corazon Eterno by Caridad Svich, Daddy Long Legs: The Musical, John and Jen: The Musical, Exit 27, her devised piece Mi Don Quijote, and SHAKE38: The War of the Roses with Shakespeare Festival STL. As an Assistant Director, she worked professionally at Great River Shakespeare Festival for two years and credits include: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Venus in Fur, The Merchant of Venice, Henry VI: The Rise of Richard, and The Comedy of Errors. She has also assisted at The Repertory Theatre of STL (The Wolves, A Christmas Story, The Play That Goes Wrong). Recently, she was the Associate Director for TUTS Public Works Houston. She’s also an avid advocate for new work. Workshop credits include: Refuge by Andrew Rosendorf (Campfire Theatre Festival) and 2 years as Artistic director of Envisage Play Festival at Webster. As an artist, Gaby works to use theatre as a way of giving representation and voices to those that are often forgotten. Pa’lante mi gente!

JIMMY BERNATOWICZ (Stage Manager)  is St. Louis native stage manager and is thrilled to be making theatre again. He was last seen on Metro Theater Company’s tour of Say Something, Do Something this March. Recent regional credits include Gianni Schicchi/Suor Angelica (ASM, IU Opera Theatre), The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus (SM, Metro Theater Company), and Fire Shut Up in My Bones (Intern ASM, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis). He has also worked for local companies like Midnight Company, ERA, and Shakespeare Festival St. Louis. Please defend 243 years of American democracy and vote. Do not be silenced; be heard.

JAYSON LAWSHEE (Lighting Designer) A recent graduate from the Conservatory of Theater Arts at Webster University, Jayson is excited to be back at COCA as the design-tech supervisor/lighting designer for this wonderful production of Suffer the Children. Last October he was the lighting designer for COCA’s production of Four Little Girls. Some recent designs of his include, Love at the River’s Edge at Shakespeare Festival Saint Louis, Ghost at Metro Theater Company, Twelfth Night or What You Will at the Conservatory of Theater Arts at Webster University, and Love Loves to Love Love at the Webster University Department of Music.

KAREEM DEANES (Design/Tech Supervisor and Sound Designer) is a theater educator in the Parkway school District. This is the second season working with coca in the role of technical Supervisor.  Kareem works as a sound designer around St. Louis with such companies as New Jewish Theatre, Ozark Actor’s Theater, St. Louis Black Repertory theater, upstream theater company and a host of others. He received two nominations for St. Louis Theater Circle awards 2020 in the area of sound design.

Cast Bios

Carl Overly, Jr (Poochie) is a full-time artist living in St. Louis. His most recent credits include, The Wall in St. Louis Shakespeare Festival A Late Night Stroll and Chebutykin in ERA virtual production of MOSCOW!, Coach in Metro Theater Company’s production of “Ghost” and Wolf in St Louis Black Repertory Theater production of “Two Trains Running”. Carl has worked with SATE, Upstream Theater, Insight Theatre, West End Players Guild, Unity Ensemble Theater, Solid Lines Productions, Mustard Seed Theater, Magic Smoking Monkey, among others. His directing credits include MotherFu&@$er with the Hat (R-S Theatrics), Anansi the Spider (The Black Rep touring company), Baby Black Jesus(Q Collective) and Assistant Director for We are the Levisons at The New Jewish Theater. He was a producer for The Every 28 Hour Project (2015 and 2016). Carl was named a Rising Leader of Color by Theater Communications Group (TCG) in 2018 and is a 3-time St. Louis Theater Circle Award winner. Carl is a teaching artist with Prison Performing Arts and COCA. Carl is a part of the EMC Program #representationmatters

David Wassilak (Mr. Horowitz) is a St. Louis based actor and director. He last appeared live onstage as Bill Livingston in The Women of Lockerbie at SATE. Some of his other favorite roles include Quasimodo in The Hunchback Variations with The Midnight Company, Norman in The Dresser at St. Louis Actors’ Studio, Roy Cohn in Angels in American at Stray Dog Theatre, John Proctor in The Crucible with Muddy Waters Theatre, Midas in Metamorphoses with St. Louis Shakespeare, and Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath at Orthwein Theatre Company. David (sometimes) teaches adult acting classes at COCA.

Michael Tran (Mr. Lee) (he / him) is thrilled to be joining the Ensemble of COCAwrites’ Suffer the Children! As a St. Louis local, he is filled with immense gratitude for this amazing opportunity to work with a company that he has been inspired by for many years. Through his artistry, he hopes to cultivate greater ethnic diversity in the performing arts, nurture growth within communities, affect new change through innovative theatrical exploration, and connect diverse, multi-generational audiences. Michael is a senior at Webster Conservatory pursuing a BFA in Acting.

Fannie Belle’ Lebby (Momma Rose): Actress/Director/Storyteller/Community Arts Educator has embarked on a journey to “spread joy” by providing quality entertainment that is thought provoking, educational and give voice to social justice issues that plague our marginalized communities. This journey has led to performances in numerous theatres playing various characters throughout the USA and Europe. A 2014 recipient of the Regional Arts Commission Artist Fellowship she currently serves as Artistic Director of A Call to Conscience Interactive Theater for Social Change.

Alicia Revé Like (Mrs. Kohring) is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri in Columbia with a BA in music. In 2017, she won the St. Louis Theatre Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama for her performance as Clarissa in The Black Rep’s production of Miss Julie, Clarissa and John. Other Black Rep credits include: PurlieThe Mountaintop, and Tell Me Something Good. Other regional credits include: To Kill A Mockingbird (St. Louis Rep), The Wiz (Coterie Theatre, Kansas City, MO) and The Gringo (Fly North Theatrics). Like is currently a company member of the show American Musical at the Sheldon Concert Hall.

Ryan Lawson-Maeske (Roy Roy) is jazzed to be a part of this production. He is a St. Louis-based actor who has had the pleasure to work with Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, the New Jewish Theatre, SATE, and St. Louis Actors’ Studio, amongst others. This is Ryan’s first time collaborating with COCA, and he is extremely grateful for the chance to create art in such unprecedented times.

Thomasina Clarke (Granmomma) I am so happy to reprise the role of “Granmomma” in Mariah L. Richardson’s, “Suffer the Children”.  Y’all, we are all children of someone.  If there ever was a time in our lives to roll down our sleeves, cover our faces, spray a cloud of Lysol around and embrace one another, that time is now.  Pray for peace and prosperity (FOR EVERYONE), learn to love ((yourself a little less – others more)), work to will it so!!

Michele Yamin (Mrs. Abu), originally from San Antonio, Texas is a Chicago based actress.  She received her bachelor’s degree in Musical Theatre from The Conservatory for Theatre Arts at Webster University where she starred in “Dogfight” (Rose), “[title of show]” (Heidi), and has performed at public events across St. Louis for The MUNY.

Chris Ware (Vet) (he/him/his) is a multidisciplinary artist born and raised in St. Louis. The former Marine believes in making a path in the community for others to emulate. Chris was last onstage in Metro Theater’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. He also is the facilitator of “Say Something, Do Something”, Metro Theater’s anti-bullying and diversity awareness program.

Kamiyah Jones (Delilah) is a 6th grader at Whitfield School. She is thrilled to be a part of COCAwrites. Kamiyah has a passion for performing and loves to dance, act, and sing. She has performed with the youth ensemble in “The Wiz 2018”, “Annie 2018”, and “Cinderella 2019” at the MUNY. She has also performed with the American Dance Troupe under the direction of Artistic Director Mark Krupinski. Kamiyah is also very excited to be a part of the COCAdance 2nd company.

Peyton Webster (Delilah) has been performing for local audiences for the last seven years including performances with COCA in Seed Folks as Ginny, Once on this Island, Jr. and Four Little Girls. She has performed in Pre- shows with the Muny through Girls Inc. that includes The Wiz, as the cowardly lion, and other musical theatre renditions. She enjoys singing and acting with COCA and is involved in the Adaigo Company, Improv troupe, school plays such as stone soup, and annual spring and winter concerts. She also sings in her church youth choir.

Parker Collier (Stanley), an 8th grader at Hixson Middle School in Webster Groves, is so grateful and excited to be cast as Stanley in this production of Suffer the Children!  His most recent roles were the villainous Captain Hook in Ignite’s Peter Pan Jr, James in the East Central College production of James and the Giant Peach and Michael in Mary Poppins at Lindenwood University.  He is a member of the COCA Allegro voice ensemble company and Improv Troupe while continuing his acting, dancing, and voice education with COCA and Fly North Theatricals.

Nichole Prodes (Lupe) is reading for Lupe in the production Suffer The Children. This is her time ever being involved with COCA and she’s very grateful for the opportunities she’s been given. Nichole has been acting in shows since she was five years old with Afton Center Stage. With Afton, she’s been casted in: Seven Super Men, The Wizard of Oz, The Princess Who Had No Name, Peter Pan, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland. Nichole is a senior at Mehlville Highschool. She would like to attend college to get her BFA in Acting. At Mehlville High school she has acted in Macbeth, Peter and the Starcatcher, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Yellow Boat, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Romeo and Juliet. She is currently directing a one act play called The Uprising through Mehlville. Nichole is a clarinet player in the school’s symphonic band. She takes private voice lessons at the J Oscar School of Music. She is a member of The International Thespian Society and a Drama Club President at her school. She is also a member of The National Honor Society. At COCA, Nichole is a part of the Vocal Company and COCAwrites. She also takes Intermediate Acting as a class and does private coaching through COCA.

Dru Walker (Principal) is very excited to be playing the role of Principal in “Suffer The Children”. She is a junior at Hazelwood Central andhas played Mama Eurile in “Once Upon this Island Jr”, Lynn in “Four Little Girls” and Latesha in “Seedfolk”.