COCA Kaleidoscope Crown

Playwright Ashleigh Akilah Rucker Shares Inspiration Behind Kaleidoscope Crown

Director, filmmaker, and playwright Ashleigh Akilah Rucker brings her new work Kaleidoscope Crown to COCA’s Catherine B. Berges Theatre for a staged reading on November 13.

Kaleidoscope Crown is a story about a young girl, Nia, who comes from a long line of leaders in a village, steeped in uniformity and traditionalism. Until one day, she awakes with a shocking new ability: with every new feeling her hair is catapulted into multicolor tresses. She must make a choice: hide this special part of herself and follow the ways of her village, or own this new part and try and change the only world she’s ever known.

Ashleigh shares the inspiration behind Kaleidoscope Crown, what moved her to develop the story here in St. Louis, and what she hopes audiences will take away from the staged reading.

Kaleidoscope Crown is rooted in family and tradition. Where did the inspiration for this work come from?

Ashleigh: Kaleidoscope Crown initially stemmed from a children’s book character I’ve been working on with my mother, who is an artist in her own right and my rock.

But, at the heart of this play is the relationship between three generations of Black women, which is directly pulled from my own relationships with the amazing generations of women who’ve made me who I am today—my mother, my aunt, my grandmother, and the village of family who built our foundation. They inspire me, they challenge me, they even drive me crazy at times, but that’s family. I’m so privileged to have grown up surrounded by such a creative and caring family who takes pride in our history. Kaleidoscope Crown is a tribute to them.

What do you hope the audience takes away from the staged reading of your work?

Ashleigh: I hope that people leave this reading with a sense of joy, curiosity, and a little magic. I hope it reminds us to cherish and celebrate our authenticities. There is so much divisiveness in this world, so I hope audiences are reminded of our shared humanity.

What does it mean to you getting to share your play with a St. Louis audience?

Ashleigh: I’m very excited to be in St. Louis for this development. This city has such a rich and layered history, specifically for people of color. I was really inspired by the intentional work being done by COCA and its youth programs. I look forward to learning from this city and these audiences, and letting this experience further color my play.

How do COCAwrites students play a role in developing this play?

Ashleigh: Working with youth was really important to me and a big part of what drew me to the COCAwrites program. I’ve already had the privilege of meeting the students from the program, and they are magical. I hope to pull from their own experiences as we develop characters and make them relatable to our audiences. I also look forward to listening to the students’ journeys and celebrating their joys so we can all find ways to color outside the lines.

Nia influences the people of previous generations in Kaleidoscope Crown. How do you hope to speak to those who came before you and those who come of age after you?

Ashleigh: What I love about Kaleidoscope Crown is that every character has something to learn and to teach. When writing this story, I specifically focused on our elders and our youth to represent that spectrum.

I remember sitting with my grandmother as a little girl as she told me stories of her childhood (she was known for her verbose stories). She would relate them to my experiences and challenged me to think outside myself. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in those moments, she was teaching me empathy and curiosity, as well as listening and validating my own experiences. Life can happen in the smallest of moments. Every generation has something to learn and to teach—we just have to stay curious enough to listen.

Life can happen in the smallest of moments. Every generation has something to learn and to teach—we just have to stay curious enough to listen.

Ashleigh Akilah Rucker

About Ashleigh Akilah Rucker

Ashleigh Akilah Rucker is a writer, director, and producer who hails from San Diego, California. She has spent a decade using theatre and the arts to educate underserved communities throughout Southern California. Some of her theatre credits include Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear, Chekhov’s The Marriage Proposal, Suzan Lori-Parks’ Topdog/Underdog, and Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps. She has worked with renowned directors such as Larry Biederman, Irwin Appel, and Tony Award Director Mel Shapiro. Her short films include #Click and We Three, and she directed Rusty Proctor’s Faith Ties. Rucker is a graduate of UCLA Extension’s film school.