Reonans Nelson II, left, a student at Arrowhead Middle School, plays Travis in the performance of “A Raisin in the Sun,” currently running at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. Playing Mama is Greta Oglesby, center, and Ruth is played by Antoine Shelley. (Photo by Cory Weaver)
Two Arrowhead Middle School students won a city-wide audition and will be performing in “A Raisin in the Sun,” opening tonight at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre.
Reonans Nelson II and Carwin Cooper of Arrowhead Middle School will play the role of Travis Younger, a 10-year-old son in the play. Reonans is in the sixth grade, Carwin is in the eighth grade, and both are in Billy Brame’s theater class.
In January, the two students were selected in auditions held at West Middle School for the role, said Melinda McCrary, director of education and community programs for the KC Repertory Theatre. They will alternate playing the role of Travis. Fourteen students tried out for the role.
The play previewed during the past week, and has its official opening tonight, she said. It runs through April 16.
There will be special morning student matinees, with students from all over the city in attendance, she said. This year the KC Rep has expanded its student matinee schedule, adding small performances for students on field trips, she added.
Arrowhead Middle School students will go on a field trip to see their classmates perform.
“We’re thrilled that they’re coming to see their school mates on the stage,” McCrary said.
It’s unusual for students to be included in a production of this level.
“It’s a really special experience for our young people in the city to work with professionals from New York and Chicago, as well as the really excellent local members of the cast,” McCrary said.
It is very demanding for the students and their parents, and the students have terrific support from their schools in order to participate, she added.
Students may benefit from learning a sense of collaboration on a project, having positive adults in their lives, self-expression and additional confidence, she said.
“I think arts education is so crucial to a well-rounded student,” McCrary said. “This is icing on the cake of the good work they’re already doing at Arrowhead.”
While Reonans has not yet announced a decision on what career he will pursue, McCrary said she was encouraged during a recent discussion after the play that Reonans is keeping an open mind about the future. She is encouraged when young people want to pursue a career in the arts.
“For him to be keeping his mind open to a lot of things in the sixth grade is fantastic,” she said. “Whatever they end up doing, this will be very beneficial. We’re always wanting to nurture young performers and young audience members. They may run theaters one day, may be donors to the arts.”
“A Raisin in the Sun,” written by Lorraine Hansberry, is directed by Chip Miller and Marissa Wolf of the Kansas City Repertory Theater. The now classic play is about a family pursuing the American dream in the 1950s.
Tonight’s performance opens at 8 p.m. at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre in the Spencer Theatre on the University of Missouri at Kansas City campus.
For ticket information, visit http://kcrep.org/show/a-raisin-in-the-sun or call 816-235-2700.