From the pages of Patricia J. McKissack’s brilliantly animated children’s book Mirandy and Brother Wind to Glen Echo, Md.’s storied Adventure Theatre, Mirandy – the bright-eyed, cocoa-hued protagonist – has found a place in young school children’s hearts nationwide.
McKissack’s 1997 work imbues fantasy and rich African-American cultural references amid the backdrop of a small southern town’s cakewalk jubilee, a celebratory dance competition. Mirandy needs a dance partner, but her fellow townspeople encourage her to “capture the wind,” a concept that puzzles the spry girl.
But Grandmother Beasley’s sage words help Mirandy understand Brother Wind’s power. “Can’t nobody put shackles on Brother Wind, chile. He be special. He be free.”
It was the rich Black vernacular and other cultural elements that first attracted Michael J. Bobbitt, artistic director of Adventure Theatre and the production’s playwright, to the book and encouraged him to craft a musical based on Mirandy’s plight. Together with music and lyrical director John L. Cornelius and director Jennifer Nelson, Bobbitt has developed an engaging stage production he hopes will encourage more African-Americans to become theatergoers.
AFRO: What was it about this story that caught your attention?
Michael J. Bobbit: I actually was just sort of roaming around the Barnes & Noble in Bethesda with my son, and I just sort of walked over to the children’s book section …started thumbing through it. Then I saw the title Mirandy and Brother Wind and I thought, well it must be an African-American book and I pulled the book off the shelf and saw a beautiful picture of this young, sassy looking girl and up in the sky behind her was a picture of the wind, who was dressed in a top hat. And I thought, ‘Wow, this must have some good fantasy or fiction about it.’ I looked on the back and it’s about the story of a little girl who wants to win the annual cakewalk, so it immediately had culture, music, dance and a fantasy element. And I think all of those things make for great musicals.
AFRO: What is the process of creating a stage play out of a children’s book?
MJB: My writer and I worked for about two years on the script and actually a lot in the last year. just looking at the story, thinking how can we make this come to life on stage. I mean luckily, most of the characters are human like characters. There’s dancing and music in the story. It wasn’t hard to find where the songs and such were.
AFRO: What resonated with you the most about this story?
MJB: I think it’s more that these experiences they (characters in the book) had were stooped in the culture and they weren’t about race. They weren’t about Black versus White or the White man keeping us down. It was just part of their everyday .
AFRO: This production appeals to an African-American audience, but what do you think can be done to engage more African Americans to become theatergoers?
MJB: Well I think there needs to be more African-American work produced and I think there’s lots of different kinds of African-American plays. And one of my goals with “Mirandy” is to do something that is more traditional musical theatre that stretches the audience’s ear. But I think what we have to do is encourage each other to go to the theater.
“Mirandy and Brother Wind” runs Jan. 21-Feb. 13 at Adventure Theater and Feb. 25-March 13 at The Atlas Performing Arts Center. For tickets and more information, log onto http://adventuretheatre.tix.com and call (301) 634-2270 for Glen Echo, Md. showing; and www.atlasarts.org/tickets, (202) 399-7993 for Washington, D.C. showing.
Kristin Gray contributed to this article.