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  • Cristee Cook

Self-esteem is highlighted through a young girl's imagination in 'Amazing Grace' at Soul Rep Theatre

Soul Rep Theatre will continue its 13th Season with the regional premiere of a children’s play, Amazing Grace. Running February 20 – March 8, 2020 at the South Dallas Cultural Center, the play is an adaptation by Shay Youngblood based off of the bestselling children’s book series by Mary Hoffman. Dallas Art Beat had the opportunity to talk with Soul Rep Co-Founder and Director Tonya Holloway. We discussed the deeper purpose of offering family-friendly plays for the community, the importance of imagination, and how the play aims to offer an example of healthy self-esteem for young girls in our society.


In their press releases, Soul Rep Theatre gives their 13th season a title: “Soul to Keep” and according to Tonya Holloway, the title is also a mission. She shared with me, “'Soul to Keep' is more about enriching and embodying your soul – the heart of a person, the heart of our community, the heart of our city. With everything unraveling in our society, we’re trying to put things and topics out there that are near and dear to the heart of what brings us all together. So, we wanted to keep this catchphrase – in the midst of all of this chaos, it’s so important to keep true to who you are. Keep true to who we are as people and use that truth to uplift everyone around us.”


Harmoni Hampton as Grace | Photo: Malcolm Herod Photography

With that consciousness behind their choices for a season, Soul Rep includes a family friendly show in each season. While Amazing Grace is a play geared for children, Soul Rep works hard to make sure it’s also entertaining and engaging for adults. The play highlights the importance of family support and self-esteem, which is an issue that Holloway feels the black community can benefit from. Before Holloway was part of a non-profit theatre company, she spent many years as a schoolteacher. And that experience enlightened her as to some of the struggles she sees children experience. She told me, “a lot of our kids – not all of them, but enough of them - don't have sound guidance in the home. Things are so chaotic for our kids now just at home and they bring a lot of it to school. We have a lot of grandparents taking care of kids. There are a lot of teenagers taking care of kids and so our kids are constantly in a revolving door of relatives’ homes.”


In Amazing Grace, the title character, Grace, has a supportive family. She has a deep connection with her grandmother, and Grace’s mother is a strong female character. But Grace receives a blow to her self-esteem when she’s told she can’t play Peter Pan in the school play because she’s a girl and she is black. When Grace tells her grandmother about her disappointment, Grandmother shares myths and stories from her home island and Grace sets off into a world of vivid imagination. In Amazing Grace, a connection to her family lineage leads Grace to discover not only her own vivid imagination, but a deeper sense of personal self-esteem. Holloway shared how it all connects:


“[In the play], Grace’s grandmother grew up in Trinidad. And through the context of the play it’s implied that Mom grew up in the States, so she's more Americanized. Mom wants Grace to be a doctor. Whereas grandmother is like, no, remember the tales. Remember the music. She’s constantly talking about the Island and the stories, which is a big part of the black community. So, it's just grandmother and mother and Grace, which is a very common scenario in the black family. And that's something [audiences] will identify with. But it is important for her grandmother to tell her whether you become a doctor or a lawyer like your mother wants, or whether you become an artist to express your creativity, either path is okay. As long as you're doing something that you want to do, that you enjoy and brings fulfillment to your life. I don't care what it is, just stay true to you.”


Harmoni Hampton as Grace. portraying an African griot | Photo: Malcolm Herod Photography

Given the richness of the themes in the story, I was curious as to what Holloway hopes audiences will take away from the play. Just like the season mission and values so clearly present in Soul Rep’s program, it seems we can all expect to leave this play feeling more inspired, more in tune with our own truth, and more empowered to remember and use our imagination.


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Amazing Grace, adapted by Shay Youngblood from the celebrated children’s book series by Mary Hoffman is directed by company co-founder Tonya Holloway. Performances will run February 20 – March 8, 2020 at South Dallas Cultural Center, 3400 S. Fitzhugh Ave, adjacent to Fair Park. Friday and Saturday performances take place at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Please visit www.soulrep.org or Facebook for tickets, more information, and details.


To further elevate the themes in the play and share with the community at large, Soul Rep Theatre will offer a “clap back” panel discussion on the theme of self-esteem after the Sunday matinee on March 1, 2020.

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