Lily Polkadot – who has just moved into the Squares Only town of Rockaway – is the first Polkadot in an all-Square school and must cope with constant bullying and restricted drinking fountains while seeking acceptance from her peers.
Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical is inspired by American civil rights history that involved the Little Rock Nine – nine teenagers who were enrolled at Little Rock Central High School in 1957 following the U.S. Supreme Court decision for desegregation of schools.
Created by Douglas Lyons (Five Points: An American Musical), who serves as lyricist and co-composer with Greg Borowsky, the musical will have its first private industry reading Aug. 28 with an all-star cast. Brittney Johnson (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) and Talia Thiesfield (HBO’s “Veep”, LMNOP) are “Lily Polkadot” and mean girl “Penelope Square”, respectively. Gerard Canonico (American Idiot: The Musical, Spring Awakening) portrays “Sky Square”, and Sara King (Hair) plays “Ms. Square”/”Mama Square”.
The readings will be directed by Amy Anders Corcoran, with musical direction by Madeline Smith as Ethan Pakchar contributes on guitar.
“I fear America’s history is repeating itself,” explained Lyons on the importance of the story in the midst of a post-racial society. “Hate is unfortunately still an issue in our nation. Instead of using violence to fight back, I’ve chosen to transform my anger into art.”
Lyons’ anger is not solely felt. He, along with many others, sensed it in the Ferguson Riots. It welled up from the Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity racist chant. It was sparked with the murder of Trayvon Martin by the overzealous neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman. It also boiled over from Indiana’s “anti-gay” bill.
Texas sports anchor Dale Hansen felt the need to speak out against racist signs held up by young fans at a local high school basketball game that when placed together read WHITE POWER. He said, “Kids have to be taught hate. And it’s our parents and grandparents, our teachers and coaches, too, who teach us to hate. Kids become the product of that environment.”
In July via the Polkadots Facebook page, a post of an interview by Maria Hinojosa with Phylicia Rashad (forever in America’s hearts as “best mom ever” Clair Huxtable of “The Cosby Show”) was shared as another basis of inspiration for the show. During the interview, Rashad talked about her environment growing up in Houston, TX, and seeing segregated water fountains for the first time.
While at a grocery store she read the signs about the two water fountains: COLORED and WHITES ONLY. The curious young Rashad decided she would taste the water from the “Whites Only” fountain. When she did, she discovered the water tasted no different from the “Colored” fountain. Rashad said she realized in that moment what she would later be able to articulate, that “humanity had tricked itself into refusing to accept itself in its fullest.”
This truth is undoubtedly what the character, Sky, comes to understand. The shy Square boy, who is curious about the new girl’s unique skin, develops a friendship with Lily that provides her hope and rocks the foundation of Rockaway Elementary. Polkadots is described “as a colorful history lesson for children, reminding them that our individual differences make us awesome, not outcasts.”
“My true mission for Polkadots is that it will become a colorful history lesson for the next generation, instilling great core values in youth and reminding them that we must never go back to the ugly parts of our humanity,”stated Lyons, who can currently be seen in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. “If children have never heard of the Little Rock Nine or the Jim Crow laws, they won’t know that America’s ‘progress’ is slipping backwards.”
And that is what theatre is about folks. As Thorton Wilder, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright/novelist said: “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
The 55-minute show will be easily produceable and hit on key themes for youth. When being the “cool kid” is a pressure-filled dilemma for adolescents, it’s great to have theatre geared for youth that sets the stage for learning the best of humanity.
“Let’s educate them with sprinkles on top!” Lyons said.
Check out Salina Giardino’s fun illustrations that capture the “cool” of the Polkadots characters on the musical’s Facebook page. Follow Lyons at @DouglasSings.
Now for a brief history lesson of Little Rock Nine:
- 1954: The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the historic Brown v. Board of Education, declaring all laws establishing segregated schools to be unconstitutional and calling for the desegregation of all schools throughout the nation. The NAACP began registering Black students in all-white schools in cities throughout the South.
- 1955: The Little Rock Board of Education adopted the plan of Superintendent Virgil Blossom (known as The Blossom Plan), outlining an integration timeline that started with Central High School first after opposition by elementary school parents as well as allowing for a transfer system.
- 1956: The NAACP filed a lawsuit against The Blossom Plan which placed a Black majority at Horace Mann High (even if Black students lived closer to Central) and a White majority at Hall High. White students would be allowed to transfer from Horace Mann, but Black students didn’t have the option to attend Hall.
- 1957: Selected on the criteria of excellent grades and attendance, nine Black students were registered at the all-White Little Rock Central High. Nicknamed “Little Rock Nine” they were: Ernest Green (b. 1941); Elizabeth Eckford (b. 1941); Jefferson Thomas (1942–2010); Terrence Roberts (b. 1941); Carlotta Walls LaNier (b. 1942); Minnijean Brown (b. 1941); Gloria Ray Karlmark (b. 1942); Thelma Mothershed (b. 1940); and Melba Pattillo Beals (b. 1941).
- Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus denied the Little Rock Nine access to Central High when they arrived Sept. 3, having the National Guard posted at the entrance – beginning what would be called the Little Rock Crisis. Faubus defied a Sept. 20 court order to remove the National Guard.
- Sept. 23 the Little Rock Nine returned to Central High after Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Wilson Mann requested President Dwight Eisenhower to send federal troops (Eisenhower dispatched nearly 1,000 paratroopers and federalized the 10,000 Arkansas National Guard troops). The 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army escorted the students into the building and units remained at the school for the rest of the academic year to guarantee the Little Rock Nine’s safety.
- 1958: Blossom was removed from office when most of the Little Rock Board of Education resigned. The Little Rock School District under the Faubus’ leadership (Cooper v. Aaron) fought for a two-and-a-half year delay on de-segregation arguing that if the schools remained integrated there would be an increase in violence. The Federal Courts ruled against the delay. Faubus and the school districts closed all public high schools and sought to initiate separate private schools.
- The schools reopened in 1959 after the “Lost Year.”