(CAMDEN, NJ) -- Urgent, searing and wildly inventive, the world premiere of Child Support by Desi P. Shelton uses humor and hypertheatricality to examine single parenthood and financial responsibility from the points of view of everyone impacted by a broken system. A site-specific, immersive experience set in a typical Camden row house, the action is scored by composer Jamal P. Dickerson and features a live band under the eye of musical director JoJo Streater. Barrymore Award-winner Ozzie Jones directs for an October 13 opening, with performances running through October 28 at Camden Repertory Theatre. Public previews begin September 28.
A mother struggling to provide. A father trying to rise above his statistical odds. A daughter desperate to be loved. Child Support lays out the unspoken rules of a game in which everyone loses. The audience, seated in the living room of Camden Rep’s converted row house, will find themselves immersed in the world of a single Black mother and her 17-year old daughter, uneasy contestants on the “Child Support Game Show.”
“Fighting for child support is a no-win game with no right answers,” says Shelton. “Nobody scores in this competition, especially not the kids. When you win the ‘prize,’ when you get your money in court, is that really what you want for your child in the end? The game is your child’s life, and when you play, it creates a cycle for generations to come.”
Playwright Desi P. Shelton stars as “Ajani”. Photo courtesy of Camden Rep
Shelton stars as single mom Ajani alongside Chynah Michele as Muff. A theater artist and activist whose motto is “using the arts as a hammer,” Shelton founded Camden Rep in 2006 as a way to reach audiences not used to seeing themselves on stage.
“Desi’s work is brilliant because it’s so personal,” explains Jones. “She critiques social issues through the lens of her own experience. How do you draw the line between wanting to make your ex pay, in both the literal and figurative sense, and what the impact of that is on the child you created together? And how does the microcosm of one family impact society?”
As part of the immersive experience, the sidewalk leading up to the theater entrance will be decorated to look like a Monopoly board; patrons will enter the block on the “GO” square.
Performances of Child Support take place Thursdays and Fridays at 7:00pm; Saturdays at 5:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm from October 13 through October 28. Previews take place September 28 through October 8.
Camden Repertory Theater is located at 445 Mechanic Street in Camden, New Jersey. All tickets are $25. For more information and to purchase tickets, call (856) 438-8430 or visit www.camdenrep.com.
Earlier this year, Chynah Michele directed Camden Rep’s immersive production of Aishah Rahman’s rarely produced underground classic Unfinished Women Cry In No Man's Land While A Bird Dies In A Gilded Cage, which featured Shelton on stage and music direction by Streater. In Philadelphia Theater Reviews, Frank Burd called that production “formidable… seamlessly directed by Chynah Michele… I made the trek into New Jersey and couldn’t have been more rewarded by this unusual play,” and Talkin’ Broadway called it “remarkable… an exceptional theatrical experience.”
Chynah Michele “Muff”. Photo courtesy of Camden Rep
Child Support is a full-length, stand alone sequel to Shelton’s earlier play, I Killed My Baby’s Daddy. That solo piece, which detailed Ajani’s efforts to “kill” her feelings for her baby’s father and move on, was a breakout success for the company.
The creative team for Child Support includes set designer Lily Guerin; lighting designer Bless Rudisill; sound designer Larry D. Fowler; and costume designers Nala Johnson and Kiante Springette. Nattalyee Randall is the production manager. Lead support for this production comes from the William Penn Foundation.
Shelton received her B.A. from Northeastern University and her M.F.A. in theater from Sarah Lawrence College. Upon returning to Camden, she heard her friends and neighbors complain that they were not welcome at local university venues, that they had no artistic outlet in Camden, and that their stories were being left untold — leading Desi to found Camden Rep, attracting first time theatergoers in the African American community and increasing audience attendance by 200%. In addition to producing plays, the company uses theater to improve life and literature skills of at-risk children through its P.A.C.E. (Preparing Artists for College Entrance) program, which helps students prepare for college auditions; assists with the application and financial aid process; offers supplementary education in written language, cultural, financial, emotional and social literacy; and creates jobs and apprentice training for returning college students. She has received the Valentine Foundation Award for female executives and is a Dodge Emerging Leader. She completed the Woman and Power Program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and is a recipient of a Leeway Transformation Award for social change artists.
Director Ozzie Jones. Photo courtesy of Camden Rep
Ozzie Jones has been a writer, director of stage and film, a composer, and performer throughout the United States and Europe since 1992. He was the artistic director of the Walt Whitman Arts Center in Camden New Jersey, winning the “Hal Prince Best Director of a Musical” Barrymore Award for directing Black Nativity. He was the first African American to direct a play in Ireland in the history of the Republic, a production of Othello that the Irish Times called “the most creative and innovative production of Shakespeare seen in Ireland in decades.” He was a member of the first Lincoln Center Theater Director’s Lab of America’s top 100 young American stage directors. Mr. Jones co-wrote and performed in the Bessie award-winning, Olivier award-nominated Rome and Jewels for Rennie Harris Pure Movement. Mr. Jones has directed or performed with Patti Labelle, Ruby Dee, Ntozake Shange, William Pope.L, Walter Dallas, Sonja Sanchez, Jill Scott, Guy Davis, The Roots, Wu Tang Clan, Schooly D, Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers and more. Mr. Jones has developed and directed staged readings of his new plays, Chasin’ the Bird at Penumbra Theater in Saint Paul Minnesota and an African Continuum production of Kind of Blue at Arena Stage in D.C. Last month, he directed Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over, a co-production of South Philadelphia’s Theatre Exile and West Philadelphia’s Theatre in the X.