Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters opened this past Friday, February 1st, as apart of Steppingstone Theatre Company’s initiative to include theatrical works that represent People of Color. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, based off of the children’s book of the same name, written by John Steptoe, in no way disappoints. With an all-Black cast and a predominately Black production team, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters brings joy, community, and sisterhood to center stage while celebrating the eloquence and beauty of the African Diaspora.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Co-Director Ansa Akyea and Music Director Atim Opoka about their experiences during the production process and their hopes for what plays like Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters will inspire in young people. Akyea stated “I wanted to create a world for the audience that was real, with real Black people from the African Diaspora, that came from a specific place in the African diaspora.” To be genuine to Zimbabwe’s culture, Akyea used Zimbabwe’s flag, geographical details, masks, and art as the basis for deciding the design for the costumes and set. Also, greetings and salutations are in Shona, an Indigenous language to Zimbabwe.
Cultural specificity was just as important to Opoka when creating the music along with composer Dominique Jones. “We listen to a lot of African music, traditional and contemporary. It was really cool for me to see how western music has also made an impact on the contemporary pop music in Africa. The most important thing to us was how can the music help elevate the story in a way words alone cannot.” And the music certainly does elevate the story. Each song, note, and rhythm teems with the brilliance of Opoka and Jones’ teamwork. Nothing is superfluous or out of place, the music is a masterful blend of traditional and contemporary African music that creates an atmosphere for intergenerational joy.
And joy is just what both Opoka and Akyea hope that Black youth will take with them after seeing the show. Akyea states “I hope they will be entertained and enjoy seeing themselves and parts of their lives on a local stage in a way that is familiar and positive. And hopefully give them the energy to love all of themselves, and grow in their own understanding of the importance of their presence and voices as People of Color in their community and world.” Opoka states “I believe this cast is the first all African-American cast at Steppingstone. Also the first time having African-American artists lead the production staff. That’s a big step in the right direction. I hope to see more stories for POC, and LGBTQIA youth as well. I often tend to think what would’ve help younger me be more confident in myself. How can I help the next generation of artists? More specifically, People of Color being seen as everyday people. Representation is so important for young people to see, to see people that look and identify as them doing amazing things.”
Representation that is genuine and loving is certainly one of the most powerful ways to undo harmful narratives and empower everyone to embrace and recognize the beauty, brilliance, and boundlessness of the stories that People of Color have to tell. Even more, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters is another masterful piece of theatre. It is immersive and fun. The cast is a genuine ensemble and embodies the community love of a village. The set design and lighting design are reflective of Zimbabwe in a way that does not make a caricature of the country. And unlike a Disney tale, it speaks to the union and growth between sisters. Seeing Manyara mature from her selfishness and embrace her sister is the kind of character building storytelling that young people need to grow into adults who not only love themselves, but their fellow humans. To put it simply, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters is a production done right.
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters public performances will continue until February 24th, with audio described and ASL interpreted performance on February 9thand 10threspectively. And if you want to see more youth theatre featuring stories that represent People of Color, The Last Firefly by Naomi Iizuka will be opening March 21stto April 7th.
May theatre always be forward thinking when it comes to representing stories of People of Color. May all the stories reflected be tools that destroy misconceptions, distortions, and misrepresentations of People of Color, giving birth to a place where our voices are not used for “inclusivity points” but genuinely seek to empower and encourage the generations to come.