Every day all over the world, children are laughing and crying, playing and learning, eating and sleeping. They may not look the same. They may not speak the same language. Their lives may be quite different. But inside, they are all alike. That is the message of Stages Theatre Company’s world premier musical Whoever You Are, based on the best-seller by Mem Fox.
The production’s songs and simple dialogue send a powerful lesson. In a world that is in desperate need for greater tolerance and acceptance, there isn’t a better message to introduce to young kids. Whoever You Are urges us to accept our differences, to recognize our similarities and celebrate both.
The hour-long production was adapted for the stage by St. Paul playwright Jeannine Coulombe, who, as part of the development process, facilitated residencies in ten culturally diverse Twin Cities elementary school classrooms. STC partnered with teachers in grades 1-3 in pursuit of discovering what young students identified as their likes and dislikes; what they cherished; how they expressed themselves; what and how they celebrated; what their dreams were and how they identified themselves in the world. The insights and experiences collected from these students have been incorporated into the script. “The thing that struck me about the students’ responses was how themes of family, school, and friendship emerged across the board, regardless of cultural background,” Coulombe says. “That’s really the heart of this whole production.”
These young people see themselves as sisters, brothers, cousins, sons, daughters, friends, citizens and students! Their families were important and all manner of celebration was cherished, especially because of who they celebrated with, not necessarily what they celebrated or how. Strikingly, there was not one student who identified themselves according to race, religion, ethnicity or cultural identity. And as the book celebrates the sameness of humanity’s heart, it is certainly heartening that the students lived in that space naturally.