It might be 2019, but proms still are segregated in some American towns.
Not by law, but by choice.
“There’s always this self-segregation,” said award-winning playwright, spoken- word poet and performer Idris Goodwin. “People were going to have their own, so they can have kings and queens that look like them and play music they like.”
Goodwin’s new 80-minute play, “American Prom,” is set in one such mid-American town. When Jimmy, a white student, realizes he can’t take his best friend, Kia, a black student, to the dance, he rebels in a way that gets the community buzzing. The show, commissioned by TheatreWorks, opens Thursday at Ent Center for the Arts at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. It runs through Feb. 10.
“It’s about freedom,” said Goodwin. “But is America just a bunch of tribes and colonies? Or a cross-blend of a group of people who can retain who they are, but know it’s necessary to really know each other? It’s a play of the moment, about the difficulty we have in talking about and celebrating the ways we’re different, but also being honest about legacy and the past.”
Woven through the play are ideas about how older generations pass on their prejudices, and how the younger population re-enacts and carries on those legacies. It’s all set to a pop- music beat, as a love of music is something Kia and Jimmy (and Goodwin) share and use to help process their emotions.
Goodwin, a former assistant professor of theater at Colorado College, lived in Colorado Springs from 2012 until last summer, when he moved to Louisville, Ky., to become artistic director of StageOne Family Theatre. His work is produced across the country and has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, The New York Times, National Public Radio and others.
The lauded playwright and poet frequently sets his plays in mid-America, with themes around the conversation of race and how to maintain a relationship between the races.
“When you divide, you don’t have a relationship,” said Goodwin. “When you don’t have a relationship, you can’t talk to each other and grow. That’s the down side to tribal mentality. You don’t build a rapport or a bridge. You want to hang onto the culture; it’s what makes America great. But we have to make sure we’re constantly looking across and wondering what they’re doing over there. This comes out of my lofty ideas around who we can be as a nation.”
JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM