Learning diversity through the ‘Durham Nutcracker’

By Olivia Barrow
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
the durhamvoice@gmail.com

“No one expects much from a girl like me,” sings 11-year-old Eileena Boyce, rehearsing the opening number of the Durham Nutcracker.

Courtney Sebring, a 10th grade student at Walltown, and Dominique Garrett, a 24-year-old hip-hop teacher, rehearse a Bollywood dance number in the Durham Nutcracker.

Eileena is one of several new faces who will be taking the stage Dec. 17 and 18 at the Holton Career and Resource Center when Walltown Children’s Theatre returns to produce the Durham Nutcracker for its second year in Northeast Central Durham.

As before, the musical will feature diverse dance styles from hip-hop to Bollywood to Chinese. The story line is the same – it’s set in Durham and follows kids and their parents as the kids audition for the Nutcracker ballet – but this year the script has been altered to focus more on character development, said Dominique Garrett, a hip-hop teacher at Walltown Children’s Theatre and member of the cast who lives in Northeast Central Durham.

“We have something to prove in this one,” Garrett said. “We want everyone to know about facing your fears and striving for what you want in life. We want to get that message out as much as possible.”

That message is coming through loud and clear for Eileena, who has performed on stage only once and said she is “super nervous” about the show.

“Being in the Nutcracker gives me the chance to express myself and know I can do anything I set my mind to,” she said.

The performance also emphasizes the importance of family during a traditional family-centered time of year, said Cynthia Penn, director and co-writer of the show.

“It’s a vehicle for youth to explore their talents and sort of encourage this community at a very special time of the year,” Penn said.

Eileena said she is excited because about 50 people from her family are coming to see her perform.

That kind of family and community pride is how Wanona Satcher, producer and co-writer of the show, said she has seen and hopes to continue to see the show impact the community.

“The community itself that we performed the Nutcracker in has been transformed,” Satcher said. “It also brought pride to the residents because Durham doesn’t have a Nutcracker … not at that level.”

Walltown Children’s Theatre students Imani Franco, Mariana Gomez, Courtney Sebring and Lauren Brennan (front row, from left) rehearse a hip-hop dance number in the Durham Nutcracker.

Satcher said the performance had impacted Walltown as well, with more students wanting to audition for the show this year than last year because they had seen it or heard good things about it and were interested in the diverse styles of dance offered. For the 60 or so mostly black and Latino students and adults involved in the production of the musical, the impact is huge, she said.

“It makes them more competitive and aware of the diversity of dancing and performing arts,” she said. “It makes them more sensitive to other styles of dance, and it makes them more collaborative, which is everything we want students to learn.”

The young students aren’t the only ones becoming more aware of diversity in performing arts. Kevin Hamak, a 44-year-old landscape architect and friend of Satcher, played an adult role in the show last year.

“I’d never been in a musical, play or acted before,” Hamak said. “Aside from being terrifying, it was some of the most fun I’d had in years…Working with the kids last year was amazing.”

Hamak is now a member of the board for Walltown Children’s Theatre and a strong proponent for the importance of community theater.

“It’s been a home away from home for a lot of kids,” he said. “Aside from learning dance, acting and the arts, it’s been a place for kids to develop into stronger, more confident individuals and learn what they’re capable of achieving.”

Hamak said he is personally most excited about picking up where he left off as a dancer and actor last year.

“Maybe I can get a little better and learn how to count,” he said.

The show will be performed in the auditorium at the Holton Career and Resource Center at 401 N. Driver St. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, children and students and are available online at http://www.walltownchildrenstheatre.org/.


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