Playwright’s Note from Gloria Bond Clunie

Quite a few years ago when I was a kid, a hula-hooping craze swept the nation, and I was in a local Wham Hula Hoop Contest! I was terrible - yet thrilled to watch old and young enthusiastically gather on a small-town playground behind my elementary school. Hula- Hoops. An embodiment of the freedom and joy of childhood. A bright, sparkly neon circle of hope, and desire, and energy that we pick up and spin around with every ounce of our being. Children, and the child in all of us, need that kind of joy!

Around and around the hoops went that day. Circles connecting a community.

Like the universality of a circle, throughout history – hoops have delighted cultures all around the world! Native American Nations use hoops to help tell their stories. Australians and the Swiss invented elaborate exercise routines with them. Hoops become magical on the bodies of Cirque du Soleil performers. I am in awe that in 2007, China’s Jin Linlin spun 105 hoops at one time!

In The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen, I love that the vibrant artistry of illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton and the captivating story woven by Thelma Lynne Godin takes us to Harlem!

I love that we meet Kameeka, a spunky African-American girl who is smart, stubborn, strong, has goals, understands personal and community responsibility - and makes mistakes then owns up to them. Makes mistakes - then finds creative solutions in order to make amends. I love that she springs from a rich, caring intergenerational community. Love the unexpected turn of events that resolves the title of Hula-Hooping Queen through the celebration of elders and a hula-hooping dance party.

I also love that I have been invited by two great theaters –Imagination Stage in Bethesda and Childsplay in Tempe, Arizona – to spend time in this world. I know first-hand that these places of magic deeply understand the unique process of creating powerful theater which honors, respects and engages children.

After the mask-wearing, social-distancing times our children have journeyed through, we need stories that celebrate community. We need stories that are infused with an understanding of others. We need stories, in which mistakes are made – owned up to, and resolved.

We need stories that perhaps don’t shout or set out to ‘teach a lesson.’ We look to stories that gently lead us to understand better. Understand, like the way illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton casually drapes a chair in Kameeka’s house with West African mud cloth. Stories that quietly explain who this family is, and that who they are matters in the underlying fabric of all of our lives.

As a playwright, taking a deep dive into this feisty story and collaborating with the amazing teams at Imagination Stage and Childsplay, I hope we create a timeless, youth resonant work for the stage that reminds us joy and community are essential to all of us. I can’t wait for audiences to join our circle of love!

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