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Monday, June 17, 2024

Black queens honored in IRT play ‘CROWNS’

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When growing up, my church was very conservative. From time to time, I’d liven up my spiritual life by visiting my best friend’s church, New Ebenezer Baptist Church. On Sunday mornings, the women of the church would be decked out in their Sunday’s best. The ensemble wouldn’t be complete without a super-size hat framing made up faces on jewelry clad senior saints.

It was something about those church women in their hats that exuded a sense of style, culture and wisdom. Like a queen wearing a crown. The new play “Crowns” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre captures African-American style and all the knowledge that swells around underneath those ‘crowns.’

Adapted from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, “Crowns” is a musical designed to celebrate the longstanding tradition of African-American women of the south wearing hats of all styles to church.

After a family tragedy, a Brooklyn teen is sent to her grandmother’s house in South Carolina. Her journey of culture and self-discovery is timed to a church day, from morning to the evening processional, featuring a wedding, a funeral, and a baptism.

While the play explores Black life, the play also explores oral tradition and honoring the victories and defeats of African-American families.

Just as the lead character found inspiration in family, so did “Crowns” director and choreographer Patdro Harris. He began his quest with his mother’s face. He loved the project and used it as an opportunity to show audiences a glimpse of life through people of color.

“I know the difference in my professional world what my Mom did and my stories and we share them as a community as actors and make those things come to life. We breathe through those stories,” said Harris. “Through the words of Regina Taylor, they tell us what to do so we can say, ‘that’s my mom,’ ‘that’s my auntie,’ ‘that’s Mrs. Wilson,’ or ‘Madea.’ We make them come to life.”

While many will identify with the characters represented in the play, Harris also wanted to use the play to diversify African-Americans and show audiences the spectrum of Black life.

“(Harris) makes you come from a very honest place. When you watch the show, each of these characters, it’s like you know them,” said Shannon Antalan, who plays the lead character, Yolanda.

While the play offers familiarity in the characters, Crowns also explores history and emotion through the characters’ voices singing church music.

In trying to give the audience an authentic character Antalan researched Brooklyn teenagers and searched within herself to enhance Yolanda and grow personally. Like her character, she also drew from matriarchal cast members.

“It’s amazing to watch them work and when they sing; forget it,” said Antalan.

“Crowns,” is perfect for families of all ages. The play begins with the youth and plays off of incorporating the fresh and new with the tried and true and investing in the future. Harris states the play comes together like a Kirk Franklin and a James Cleveland.

“Crowns” is an exploration of history and identity. This incredible story of one young woman’s return to the South dramatizes her education into the ritualized world of hats as an expression of cultural identity.

“It’s true, it’s honest, and very respectful to our culture,” said Antalan.

For more information, call (317) 635-5252 or visit www.irtlive.com.

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