By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]

Children from the Department of Recreation’s Southeast Tennis and Learning Center (SETLC) are entertaining and educating audiences from ‘East of the River’ to the Kennedy Center with their 13th annual “Blacks in Wax” performance, with this year’s theme, “Young, Gifted and WOKE.”

On Friday, March 15 at THEARC in Southeast and Saturday, March 23, at the John F. Kennedy Center in Northwest, students from seven to 17 will portray monumental figures from today and the past who used their young voices to make a difference.

“Blacks in Wax” is an annual performance put on by the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center (SETLC), which will take place this year on March 15 and 23.  This photo is from a previous “Blacks in Wax,” where students portraying historic figures posed with Cora Masters Barry . (Courtesy Photo)

“We’re not only doing some of the young people now like Naomi Wadler, who was the 11-year-old girl who spoke at the March for Our Lives, but also we’re doing Ernie Green, who desegregated Little Rock, Ark.- we hear from his perspective,” CEO of the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center and D.C.’s former first lady Cora Masters Barry told the AFRO.

Each year the theme for “Blacks in Wax” changes, and Barry explained the divine way the theme, “Young, Gifted and WOKE,” came to be.

“What really inspired it, was on the day of the “Blacks in Wax” performance at the Kennedy Center in 2018, was also the day of the children’s march, which was the March for Our Lives.  And we said then that we are going to lift our young people up,” Barry said.

Even though the idea for “Young, Gifted and WOKE,” came to Barry and her team last March, the other business of SETLC and their busy students had to be taken care of.  Barry said auditions for “Blacks in Wax” were in December of last year, and then there a lot that happens before students can get from SETLC to professional stages.

“There’s a lot of moving parts.  The way the process goes is once we choose the kids for whatever particular venue, if they’re going to be in the vignette or museum… then the first part of the assignment is that they have to do research.  Write papers on the character they’re doing.  Then they have to list about four or five things that are important the person,” the CEO, who also helps with scriptwriting and directing the show, explained.

Amazingly, the students are able to get to professional level performances in a short time-span.

“This year we’ve only had three weeks, well two weeks and three days. But it’s a miracle it happens.  These kids are a perfect example of, if you have a high level of expectation for these kids and you insist they meet it, they will meet it,” Barry explained.

One example of the high demand for the students is the quick time they are expected to memorize script- and successfully do so.  “72 hours to memorize the whole script… After the first three days we do no paper,” Barry said. “There’s the research, there’s the script writing, there’s the memorization and then the hard part is the actualization.  Being able to not just know what you’re saying, but to understand it and then give it out in a way in which people can respond to it, and be educated, inspired and entertained by the performances.”

The former political science professor said it took a while to understand the best way for students to engage with important Black figures, before realizing “Blacks in Wax” was the way to educate the young scholars.

“When Black history month came around I tried everything.  I had lectures, I had movies, I even showed the children’s march in Alabama, but I couldn’t hold their attention.  So after about the third year, I said, ‘Why don’t we just do a play?’  And so we did a little play- a little reenactment in the library- and it was so successful. The kids enjoyed it, the parents enjoyed, the few little people that came to see it enjoyed it,” Barry said.

Thirteen years later, “Blacks in Wax” has made its way from SETLC to professional performance spaces such as THEARC and the Kennedy Center.  Barry explained the reason for its success.

“People keep coming back because it’s a professional level performance and it is entertaining and secondly because it’s amazingly educational and inspiring.  So you learn so much and get entertained at the same time.  And I think the other thing it is the miracle of seeing young people putting on this kind of performance,” she told the AFRO.

Barry said “Blacks in Wax,” put on in collaboration with the Recreation Wish List Committee, is not only meant for education and entertainment, but changes lives.

“The most valuable thing that I have found about “Blacks in Wax” is it builds a sense of self confidence that lasts a lifetime.”

“Blacks in Wax: Young, Gifted and WOKE,” will be at THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Avenue Southeast, Washington, D.C., 20020, on March 15 at 1 p.m. (for schools and seniors) and 6 p.m. and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street Northwest, Washington, D.C. 20566, with a museum at 5 p.m. and vignette 6 p.m.  All performances are free and open to the public, except the 1 p.m. student and senior matinee, which requires an RSVP.