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Paige Hernandez's "Havana Hop." (Photo by Eric P. Mull)

4 Theatres Commission Paige Hernandez to Create Maya Angelou-Inspired Play

Hernandez’s commission comes courtesy of four separate theatres, and will involve workshops with kids in each theatre’s community.

NATIONWIDE: Paige Hernandez, a Washington D.C.-based playwright, performer, director, and choreographer,  has been commissioned to create a theatre piece based on Maya Angelou’s poem Life Doesn’t Frighten Me. 

Paige Hernandez.

Hernandez’s new work was co-commissioned by four theatre companies: Children’s Theatre of Charlotte (N.C.), Children’s Theater of Madison (Wisc.), Dallas Children’s Theater (Texas), and the Rose (Neb.). The project begins early next year, and will involve Hernandez working with children from each theatre’s community to generate the play. Angelou’s poem, as well illustrations by Jean-Michel Basquiat, will serve as inspiration and source material.

“To say that this project feels like a perfect fit is an understatement! I have been a lifelong fan of Angelou, Basquiat, and specifically of Angelou’s poem Life Doesn’t Frighten Me,” said Hernandez in a statement. “I have taught this poem for many years and look forward to putting my mindful hip-hop aesthetic into a devised children’s theatre piece.”

Hernandez hopes the workshops will illuminate the similarities and differences among children from around the country. From her work with the groups, Hernandez plans to lift material to create the play itself, aiming to incorporate visual art, music, dance, spoken word, and other artistic forms to the final product.

“We are thrilled to have Paige Hernandez on board as playwright for this project,” said Arlethia Hailstock, school performance coordinator and staff EDI lead at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, in a statement. “Paige is an engaging, energetic, and accomplished artist and educator. Between Angelou’s words, the energy of the young people involved in the workshops, and Paige’s vision, audiences are in for an incredible experience.”

Workshops in the four cities—Charlotte, Madison, Dallas, and Omaha—will include various ages and demographics, from first grade through teenage. “The fact that Paige will be workshopping with the Rose while two of our ‘Teens ’N’ Theatre’ programs are rolling is incredibly exciting,” said Carina DuMarce, associate director of CommUNITY Connections at the Rose in Omaha, in a statement. “These young people have such a strong, creative voice. It’ll be quite magical to see how the words of Life Doesn’t Frighten Me and Paige’s process intertwine with the voice of these teens.”

The first workshop will take place at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte in August 2022. From there, rolling premieres will be scheduled at each of the four collaborating theatre companies. The productions will be appropriate for kids aged 4–8.

“The potential of this project and the collaboration between these flagship theatres and their communities takes my breath away,” continued Hernandez in a statement. “Audiences can expect an experience that is authentic, insightful, and that amplifies the voices of children from several communities throughout the country.”

Hernandez has taught arts to all ages in several disciplines. She has reached more than 10,000 students, from pre-K through college, through international performances, residencies, and workshops.  Her work has gained recognition from organizations including the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts and Arena Stage where she was awarded the Thomas Fichandler award for exceptional promise in theatre education. As a playwright, she has collaborated with the Lincoln Center and been commissioned by companies including the National New Play Network, the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center, La Jolla Playhouse, the Glimmerglass Festival, and the University of Maryland. Hernandez was named a “Theatre Worker You Should Know” by American Theatre, one of “40 under 40” by the Washingtonian Magazine, a Rising Leader of Color by Theatre Communications Group, and a Citizen Artist by the Kennedy Center.

With her company B-Fly Entertainment, Hernandez continues to develop original work for multicultural and multigenerational hip hop audiences. Her original one-woman show, Havana Hop, a children’s tale of culture and originality, has toured nationally. Hernandez applied for the commission through a national open call, and was selected by a committee of representatives from the four collaborating theatres.

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