Originally under the name Louisville Children’s Theatre, StageOne Family Theatre has existed in some form since 1946. Each year, roughly 60,000 young people, their families and educators enjoy productions presented by StageOne at the student matinees alone. Not only is StageOne the oldest theater in Louisville, it is also regarded as one of the nation’s leading professional theaters for young audiences.
Suffice it to say, the company has a rich history with a host of capable artistic directors at the helm over the years. The 2019/2020 season marks the first for Idris Goodwin, StageOne’s current producing artistic director and playwright for this season’s opener, “Ghost.”
“I came to StageOne a year ago. Before that I was a full-time professor of playwriting and spoken word poetry at Colorado College,” Goodwin said. “Pretty much most of my career I’ve been writing plays, directing plays, writing books, performing as a hip-hop artist and a break beat poet. I’ve been an educator and an organizer. I came to StageOne because this job offered me the opportunity to do a little bit of all of that.”
Goodwin’s career and body of work are impressive. He penned an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” for StageOne last year as well as a widely acclaimed and produced historical piece entitled “And In This Corner: Cassius Clay” that premiered in Louisville with StageOne in 2015 and went on to win the distinguished play award from The American Alliance for Theatre and Education. His plays have appeared at such institutions as Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Steppenwolf Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Nashville Children’s Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse and the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. His play “Hype Man: A Break Beat Play” opens at Actors Theatre of Louisville on September 11, less than two weeks before the opening of “Ghost.”
“Ghost” is an adaptation of the beloved book by Jason Reynolds and was originally created for Nashville Children’s Theatre. The story follows a troubled teenager, named Castle Cranshaw but nicknamed “Ghost,” who’s used to creating problems and running away from them. When he meets an ex-Olympic medalist, Ghost has a chance to harness his talent to be the fastest sprinter on his middle school track team.
Adapting any play is challenging, but Goodwin says this one was a little easier than others he’s done.
“It was one of the easiest I’ve ever done because [Reynolds] gave me everything that I needed. Really the challenge was picking the right thing. I don’t want to leave the wrong things out,” he said.
Picking the “right thing” was especially important to Goodwin due to the source material’s subject matter and its contemporary setting.
“There are kids in Louisville who are just like Castle,” he said. “A lot of plays that get done that have predominantly African American casts are plays about the past. Plays about the civil rights movement and earlier. This is a play about right now, the challenges of right now.”
Goodwin is especially excited for students and teachers to see the show.
“I’m just really excited about the kids who are going to recognize themselves or recognize people up on that stage,” he said. “I just think that that can be a magical moment for a young person, for them to go to a theater and say, ‘Whoa. How did they know? Did they write this for me?’ I love that.”
StageOne has a long tradition of crafting rich study guides and other supplemental materials to assist teachers in deconstructing the play once the students have returned to school, and Goodwin believes there’s a lot to talk about in “Ghost.” In fact, it appears that the same can be said for the rest of StageOne’s season, especially “Lawbreakers!” a play introducing young audiences to the history of the women’s suffrage movement that opens in January 2020.
Goodwin believes that this socially-relevant programming is inherent to StageOne’s mission and is essential to the company’s continued growth.
“We’re heading toward our 75-year anniversary in a couple years. For me, this season is sort of a benchmark for fostering in a new era,” Goodwin said. “We want to continue to push until we get every kid in the region to have their first experience with theater with us.
“Theater is an important piece of developing a human. It’s why it’s been around forever. This is why our season looks like it does currently, and we want to continue building on that.”
Student matinees performances of “Ghost” run from September 16 through October 4, 2019 at The Kentucky Center’s Bomhard Theater at 10 a.m. and noon. Public performances are also at the Bomhard on September 21 and 28 and October 5 at 2 and 5 p.m. Click here for ticket and student matinee booking information.