We’re thrilled to be collaborating with The Black Rep for our upcoming COCA Presents production of Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963. This is the second partnership between COCA and The Black Rep for a mainstage production.
We asked Ron Himes, the Founder and Producing Director of The Black Rep, and Jennifer Wintzer, Artistic Director of Theatre at COCA, to share with us insights into this collaboration and what the audience can expect from this production.
Can you tell us a little bit about how this partnership between COCA and The Black Rep came about for Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963?
Ron: Jenny approached me about working together on a production. Of course I was very excited that Jenny had started in her new position and was as excited to support her and the vision she had for theatre at COCA. We kicked around some titles and some possible shows that might speak to both of us and our audiences while serving our young performers at the same time. Four Little Girls was a perfect fit for us all around.
Jenny: Building partnerships has always been essential to my work as an artist. Partnering with Ron and The Black Rep has been one of the primary focuses of my first six months in my new position at COCA, particularly as we build the St. Louis Theatre Workforce Collaborative as part of the Theatre Communication’s Groups Audience Revolution cohort. Working with Ron and his team has been a great opportunity for me to learn from a leader in the American theatre and to work with a company with so much history and relevance in our community. Like Ron mentioned, we threw around a few titles for a co-production and landed on Christina Ham’s play. The issues that the young people face in her play are unfortunately still relevant today. As an artistic director, I am interested in providing opportunities for artists to be agents of change in our society—no matter their age. I am very proud of the work of our creative team and their dedication to working with our students to tell this powerful story.
What does the process of working together look like?
Ron: It looks like what a lot of folks talk about in conversations around collaborations and social justice programming. It feels like the right thing to do. It takes a lot of open, honest conversations and a willingness to give all that one can to make the project a win win.
Jenny: It looks like coming together over a common vision and checking in regularly to make sure your path remains aligned throughout the process. It means being flexible and innovative when new challenges arise. Working together is what theatre looks like—a collaborative process that is fueled by multiple perspectives, talents and abilities.
What specifically do you want to bring to this story?
Ron: It is always important to me to fill in the blanks in American stories where through neglect and omission history is made clear and the real stories are told.
Jenny: I want to provide an opportunity for young people and adults to come together over a shared understanding. An understanding that we must look back. We must say the names of the people we have lost to hatred–Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley. We must hear their pain and we must do better.
What can the audience expect when they come see this production?
Ron: A set of young performers committed to storytelling and reliving an important period of American history. An ensemble focused and directed by professionals dedicated to training the next generation of artists in this community.,
Jenny: You will see a show with young people involved in every aspect of the production. A show with powerful spirituals sung by a group of passionate, young performers. A show with inspiring and thoughtful direction guiding you on an intimate journey through the lives of young people in a divided city. And a show with a design and stage management team with a deep commitment to training the next generation of design-tech artisans in our field.
Why is this powerful production relevant for the St. Louis community?
Ron: St. Louis is a community that finds it difficult to deal with its racial polarization and is trying in many ways to address those issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. The power of young voices speaking out has had tremendous impacts throughout the fight for human and civil rights.
Jenny: Because it is a story being told by young people. We are responsible for their future and the future of St. Louis.
What do you hope the audience takes away from this production?
Ron: Understanding that it takes more than talking the talk that it takes a whole lot of human feeling to make the world a better place for all.
Jenny: What Ron said. I couldn’t say it better.