21 June 2021

Charlotte’s Web: An Ongoing Commitment to BiPOC Voices

A Nashville native, Whitcomb-Olvia attended shows at NCT with her school as a child, inspiring her to attend Nashville School of the Arts, before pursuing theatre and music in her collegiate career.

Jennifer Whicomb-Oliva performing on stage
“Charlotte’s Web is the story we need to hear right now… the love and the loss and the new… right now we are all Wilbur, this some pig, shiny, bright, new, so many things on the horizon.” — Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva, Goose/Ms.Carter/Fair President  in NCT’s upcoming Charlotte’s Web
Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva smiling next to Charlotte's Web Show Poster

In a little less than a week, Nashville Children’s Theatre will perform live for the first time in over a year. But don’t be fooled; despite the classic story and show of Charlotte’s Web, NCT’s reentry will take full advantage of the opportunity to invite families into something new. In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a series of stories and highlighting the wonder that has been infused into this well-loved tale.

We talked to Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva, who shared why, even before she knew it, this show was on the horizon. A Nashville native, Whitcomb-Olvia attended shows at NCT with her school as a child, inspiring her to attend Nashville School of the Arts, before pursuing theatre and music in her collegiate career. After over a decade of working professionally in Nashville, she lovingly looks back on the time that the Children’s Theatre was on her “Acting Bucket list.” Now, she is preparing to perform in her third NCT show: an all-black cast of Charlotte’s Web.

 “In my whole career thus far, all of my experience on stage, this is the first all-black cast I’ve been a part of… [Charlotte’s Web] has filled me with such hope and joy for people who are going to come see the show…. I’m hoping that with audiences able to see it performed by people of color that hopefully it will open their eyes, minds, and hearts to the fact that people of color are able to play whatever we want to play and don’t have to be trapped inside this box…”

Coming straight off of her virtual work with Nashville’s Opera on One Vote Won, an all-black project telling the story of black women’s suffrage, Charlotte feels like the natural step forward,“One Vote Won was about change and using our voices and now in Charlotte’s Web that’s exactly what we’re doing; I’m in a space where change has been made, we are moving forward, and it is up to us as actors and artists to use our voices to continue this movement…” , explains Whitcomb-Oliva.

Given her prior experience working in NCT’s 2018 Tuck Everlasting, in which NCT Artistic Director Ernie Nolan chose to make the Tuck’s a black family, Whitcomb-Oliva says she is not surprised this next step forward is happening at Nashville Children’s Theatre.

 Looking back on NCT’s intentional focus on accountability and tangible change in the realm of diversity and inclusion, it’s easy to understand why she feels this way. When NCT’s Hatchery, New Works Incubator, was started Nolan was very clear: “I was searching for contemporary stories from BiPOC writers and artists…. If I wanna tell a Latinx story, I don’t wanna feel like they’re just three plays in the TYA canon and ‘That’s what you do when you tell a Latinx story’” (Nolan interview by Roberts 2020).This intention has translated to premiers of new works that spotlight stories of historically underrepresented groups from 2019’s Ghost, focusing on a team of young African American athletes, and 2020’s Return to Sender, giving a glimpse into the life of an undocumented-immigrant family.

This winter, NCT continued its commitment, joining 31 other organizations nationally to pledge #BiPOCinTYA: working through “Anti-Racist & Anti-Oppressive Futures for Theatre for Young Audiences: An Interactive Guide, in addition to committing to future Anti-Racist measurable actions.

 Perhaps that’s why this choice feels so important to Whitcomb-Oliva.

“It’s different putting a couple people of color in the mix of people just to have it..NCT’s choice is intentional and that sends a message. it’s exciting and brave and the right thing to do to give opportunities to people whose voices are not heard… in making that choice not only is it one person saying what they think is right, but they are representing an entire company…These intentional choices NCT is making are furthering the education, which that’s what this organization does. Isn’t that what they do? They’re enriching people, giving you new experiences, new representation.”

Jennifer Whicomb-Oliva and Gerold Oliver in The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.
Jennifer Whicomb-Oliva and Gerold Oliver in The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

Make sure you and your family don’t miss out on this unique show, running June 26th to July 17th, at West Glow Farm. Visit www.nashvillect.org to purchase tickets. And don’t forget to follow along for more stories of Charlotte’s Web this summer!

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