Resilience. Growth. Healing. Bravery.
Those words capture the essence of “The Color Purple: The Musical,” co-presented by Springfield Contemporary Theatre and the new Mosaic Arts Collective in February. It’s a meaningful story for Mosaic’s first theater production, say the organization’s founders, Nki Calloway, Keegan Winfield and Amanda Snead. And tickets are selling well for the musical performing Thursdays through Sundays Feb. 10-26 with an eight-piece orchestra at the Historic Fox Theatre on Park Central Square.
A related art exhibit, “Homecoming: Black Art Celebrating The Color Purple,” opens Friday, Feb. 3, at the Fox Theatre with a public reception during First Friday Art Walk. It continues through the run of “The Color Purple: The Musical” for ticket-holders, said Winfield who organized the art show. She says artists created or shared works that reflect themes in “The Color Purple.” The exhibit was titled “Homecoming.”
For one thing, Winfield said, “I was really struck by the themes of coming home to yourself and growing into who you are.”
Presenting “The Color Purple: The Musical” in Springfield is ground-breaking for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the cast. The musical, which draws from both the novel and a film, appeared on Broadway twice. Springfield’s production is the revival version that calls for 17 cast members to play dual characters. However, so many people of color came out for auditions — ground-breaking in itself — that the creative team cast 27 ranging in age from 8 to 67, making it the largest cast for an SCT show. More significantly, says Calloway who directs the show, it’s the largest all-Black local cast in Springfield.
“There have been casts with large amounts of Black people,” she said, “but for an all-Black cast, this is definitely the biggest.”
One cast member, Leesa Chambers, eagerly showed up early for a Wednesday night rehearsal. Although she’d had some minor theater roles, landing a primary character was a first. She plays Sofia, a confident woman with a big personality who grew up in a big family and had a hard life.
“She is just amazing. I’m glad to play Sofia because I can kind of embrace who she is,” Chambers said.
Springfield Contemporary Theatre is no stranger to collaborating with community groups, said Rick Dines, SCT’s managing artistic director also handling scenic design for “The Color Purple: The Musical.” It’s a win-win for both organizations. While Mosaic is not a producing organization like SCT, its ability to promote arts opportunities for people of color was key to attracting a great audition turnout.
“We were excited to work with them,” Dines said.
Winfield says they are grateful to SCT for their production expertise, “and for allowing Black people to tell black stories. I think that that is so important.”
Choosing ‘The Color Purple’
As the two groups brainstormed what show to do, “The Color Purple: The Musical” emerged. The story, based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, centers on Celie, an uneducated African American woman in rural Georgia who over four decades eventually triumphs over trauma, loss and abuse through connections with strong women and a growing sense of self-discovery and her own empowerment.
“It’s a story of self-discovery, becoming part of a community and friendship,” said Snead, the show’s choreographer and associate director. She hopes audiences leave feeling hope after experiencing Celie’s pain. “And I hope they walk away feeling warmth and encouragement, maybe even inspiration from the friendship and the things that they see.”
It has great roles, Dines says, and it helped to choose a show that’s recognizable to the talent base. That’s important as Mosaic organizers work to build their presence, grow the talent pool and make them aware of opportunities in town, he said.
Even so, choosing a production with roles for 17 was a leap of faith.
“It is ambitious, and we have a responsibility to the beauty of the story and to the accuracy of the story,” Snead said. “And so many people are in love with the story and the movie, it meant a lot to them in the community. So we’re excited to do our best to give it justice.”
A show this size likely wouldn’t be possible in years past. Because so many wanted to participate, Calloway said, “we decided that we would open the cast to more people so we could play off people’s strengths and give people room to grow.”
The role of Mosaic
Calloway said minority groups simply don’t see much for themselves on local stages. That’s why to reach potential cast members, they used various social media platforms and contacted many one by one.
“We were just grabbing them and saying, ‘Come audition, come audition, come out.’ So we introduced them to the process and they started grabbing other people to come and audition.”
That’s how they ended up with nearly 50 auditioning, Calloway said: “We were over the moon about that.”
It’s one way that Mosaic is fulfilling its mission to provide and facilitate education, preparation and performance opportunities in the arts for individuals of marginalized groups and races by engaging local resources, increasing accessibility and creating more diversity within the regional arts community.
Emerging from Black Arts Alliance and established in June 2022, the nonprofit was named Mosaic Arts Collective to encapsulate its intended reach to a broad “mosaic” of people, said co-founder Winfield, an actor, podcaster, vocal performer and director who calls Springfield home but currently lives in Los Angeles.
Learn more about Mosaic Arts Collective (Click to expand story)
There are many barriers to diversifying the arts landscape, said Snead, a professional choreographer locally and internationally who also coaches movement for the Willard High School show choir.
“All three of us came from an arts background in one way or another and felt the gap in, not only the representation on and off of the stage, but also in the opportunities for people of color,” she said.
They hope to forge a path that will help overcome those barriers. Increasing representation and accessibility in performing arts — on and off the stage — is one way to do that, such as by facilitating shows like “The Color Purple: The Musical.”
Another goal is to facilitate greater access to the region’s many existing arts programs, whether that’s providing transportation, supplies or tuition. They learned from Missouri State University research that transportation is a key barrier. That’s especially true for youth participating in educational opportunities, a passion in particular for Calloway, the mother of two and an established regional performer and director who has voiced local and national jingles. To that end, Calloway says, they are working with local partners including Springfield Little Theatre, Springfield Regional Arts Council and Plotline (a film and media education organization), and they are reaching out to other organizations as they grow. They hope to eventually acquire a 15-passenger van.
While short, limited programs and summer camps are available to the means to otherwise experience the arts, Mosaic wants to help kids participate for years, not just months.
“So if kids want to take lessons for musical instruments, they’ll be able to take them all year round, not just for eight weeks,” Calloway said. “If they want to take theater classes, pottery classes, dance classes, vocal lessons — whatever they choose — they would be able to get transportation to and from, and they would also be able to have a scholarship to cover it.”
If kids become proficient, that could even lead to scholarships upon graduating high school.
“I believe starting with the kids is going to be how we make this long-term,” Calloway said. Community engagement and activation, a third goal, shows in the success of casting “The Color Purple: The Musical.” So many performers are new to theater, Winfield said, “it’s really refreshing and exciting to see. And I hope that we continue to see that, not only with the Black community but also with other communities of color, specifically in marginalized communities.”
Dines says Springfield needs a catalyst organization like Mosaic to help connect local arts to minority groups and he hopes to see representation grow within the arts.
“I was excited to see individuals with the passion to do that work because it’s going to help all the organizations in town — and not just performing arts organizations,” he said. “I really do feel that most of the organizations are excited and beyond ready to embrace that.”
If not for the outreach by Mosaic, Chambers said she would not have auditioned for “The Color Purple: The Musical.” She has learned so much from the creative team and feels they are invested in her success.
“When I came in these doors, I was just amazed at what these people had to offer,” she said.
With so many people involved in “The Color Purple: The Musical,” it’s helping to build a community around the Mosaic Arts Collective, Snead said.
“They tell other people and view us as a safe place and a resource to continue,” she said. During one rehearsal, Snead noticed an ensemble member tearing up and worried she was upset. But they were tears of joyful emotion, Snead recounts: “She said, ‘I just didn’t know I was capable.’”
Calloway thinks this cast is the most eager, excited and dedicated group she will ever work with.
“I expected it to be a lot of new people who maybe didn’t understand the commitment that we’re making. And they’ve taken that commitment and offered more,” she said. “They just want to show up and they want to do a great job. And they’re more talented than we could have ever imagined.”
The Color Purple: The Musical
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10-11, 16-18, 23-25; 2 p.m. Feb. 12, 19 and 26
Where: Historic Fox Theatre, 157 Park Central Square
Contact: Visit springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org or call 417-831-8001
Also: A post-show discussion with members of the cast and creative team will be held following the Feb. 16 and 19 performances.