For Karen Edwards-Hunter, directing the Commonwealth Theatre Center’s “Welcome to Wandaland” is personal — especially when it comes to the main character, a black 4th grader named Wanda.
“She talks about Sputnik, I remember the ‘race for space.’” Hunter said. “I was alive and I very, very vividly remember signing the Civil Rights Act into law. Also, Wanda is one of four children, I’m one of seven. She has one brother, I have one brother.”
Another similarity, Hunter said, is that both she and Wanda had exceptionally smart older sisters. This is a key part of the play.
In “Welcome to Wandaland,” Wanda spends much of the play studying for an entrance exam for a newly desegregated “gifted school.” This is the same school where her older sister was just accepted
The school is two trolley rides and a bus ride away, but it’s worth it to Wanda.
This narrative arc has given Hunter the opportunity to speak with her cast — the majority of whom are in high school and middle school — about topics like racism and white flight; something she says some of her students have dealt with locally.
“Some of them are old enough to deal with forced busing,” Hunter said. “We are at the tail-end of that in Louisville. Because of that, a lot of the kids have to go outside their neighborhoods in order to go to the school they’ve been assigned. That’s a little bit of what Wanda experiences.”
While the play deals with some tough topics, Hunter said the production is written in a way that is exceedingly hopeful — something she hopes will inspire audience members to make the future Wanda dreamed of a reality.
“Welcome to Wandaland” by the Commonwealth Theatre Center premieres Nov. 9th. This is the show’s regional premiere.