By Amy Stumpfl
Nashville Children’s Theatre kicked off the new year in style – with the much-anticipated world premiere of Ghost.
Based on the popular book by Jason Reynolds and written by award-winning playwright Idris Goodwin, Ghost was developed through The NCT Hatchery, an exciting new works incubator established just this season. The story follows seventh-grader Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw, as he joins a local track team and finally realizes that he can’t outrun the difficult realities of both his past and present.
“As soon as I read Ghost, I knew that I wanted to see it on stage,” says Ernie Nolan, NCT’s Executive Artistic Director. “For me, developing new work is about building and investing in the future of theatre for young audiences. The canon of plays for young audiences is nowhere near the size for adults. There are so many stories that have yet to be written, but need to be shared with young audiences. Reflecting our community is at the core of our work at NCT. Developing new work makes sure that we can do that.”
Nolan says Ghost is uniquely suited to TYA (or Theatre for Young Audiences), noting that he actually brought a copy of the book with him when he arrived for his first day of work at NCT.
“I love Jason Reynolds’ voice as a writer,” he says. “After reading Ghost, the characters just leapt off the page. I loved the idea of sharing a contemporary story that felt like it was happening right outside the theatre. It’s been amazing watching the play start with an idea, to then a draft, workshop, and now full production. In addition to playing at the national TYA conference in May, Ghost is already set to have productions in St. Louis and Louisville. Theatres across the country are very excited about Ghost.”
Of course, local audiences are just as enthusiastic – including teachers such as Katina Master. An educator for the past 18 years, Master currently teaches fifth grade at Thurgood Marshall Middle Prep in Antioch.
“The performance of Ghost was simply great,” says Master, who has been acquainted with NCT for many years, enjoying performances as both a parent and a teacher. “The characters really came to life, and the actors did a great job bringing out the personality of each character. I saw a cast that really seemed to work well together, and that showed in their performance. The rapport they had with one another made the events they were portraying seem very real.
“I was surprised to see a cast that was primarily African American, and that resonated with me so much because I do teach in the inner city. For these kids to see actors that look like them was awesome. Many of my students could really relate to some of the character flaws of Ghost, and some have even experienced similar living and life situations. I really enjoyed the humor that was so representative of middle schoolers. I loved how music was played that kind of pulled the kids in even more, and how the life of a single mother and her child unfolded before us with issues relevant to today’s society.”
As a Library Media Special at Stewarts Creek Middle School in Smyrna, Stacie Whitlock agrees.
“Jason Reynolds is one of my favorite authors,” she says. “[He] writes his books with characters who use an authentic voice, which many students find relatable. I knew that a stage performance based on the book would be amazing, but it had to be done right. It had to remain consistent with the themes and authenticity of the book.”
Whitlock says NCT’s production does just that, adding that the “performance stayed true to the themes, characters and key details of the book.”
“We brought 120 sixth and seventh grade students to the performance. All students had read the book prior to our field trip and were eager to see how the play would compare to the book. I glanced around at our students several times during the play, and they looked mesmerized and completely entertained.
“Working with NCT to plan our field trip was easy,” she says. “The curriculum resources matched our state standards, and the free educator’s workshop provided some of the best professional development that I’ve experienced. In fact, I recently adapted the lesson/activity that we did at the educator’s workshop with my eighth-grade students. I am looking forward to attending another NCT performance, both as an educator and a parent.”