Rage For The Stage presents ‘Pipeline’

RACINE — Theatre has long been the medium for presenting perspectives that lead to forward-leaning conversations.

The play “Pipeline,” by Dominique Morrissey, is one such play.

The show puts the spotlight on a mother’s love and her desire to do what is right for her child – even when she is not always sure of the path forward – as she fights to keep her son out of the school-to-prison pipeline, which has contributed to the mass incarceration of young Black men.

Kelsey Harris portrays Nye, the single mom who is struggling to protect her son.

Harris acknowledges the play has challenging themes but believes it will lead to important conversations. She encouraged people to step out of their comfort zones and attend.

“I think it’s important to do because no matter how it makes us feel, it’s necessary,” Harris said. “That’s how change starts, with conversation.”

“Pipeline” is a production of the Black Arts Council of Racine (BACR) Rage For The Stage and is being directed by Adrianna Jones.

Finding inspiration

“Pipeline” director, Adrianna Jones
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“Pipeline” director, Adrianna Jones

Jones came to southeastern Wisconsin for higher education. After she received her Master of Music degree in Vocal Pedagogy from Carthage College, she joined the faculty in the theatre department and began working in local theaters.

She came across “Pipeline” while she was preparing to teach a class on African American theater, which centers on Black drama and art.

Jones was drawn to the play because it was so well-written and also for the great characters. She said the show will resonate strongly with audiences because the characters will remind them of someone they know.

“Even when a show has deep themes or deep subject matter, or what’s not necessarily comedy or lighthearted, I try to find the lightness in it,” Jones said. “For me, the lightness is found in the family and just telling their story.”

She added, “My hope is even with the struggles they are going through, we’re able to still see their humanity and relate to that on a human and personal level.”

Jones praised the work of the cast for bringing this challenging play to local audiences.

“They’re really talented people … star quality folks,” she said.

Drawing from personal experience

The cast members will be familiar to local audiences for their participation in local arts.

Harris has deep roots in the local arts community. As well as being a published poet, with one of her poems selected for the Wall Poems of Racine, she was Racine’s writer-in-residence in 2020 and was in the 2022 production of “The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks, and Curls” by Keli Goff.

The role of Nye is challenging because she experiences a wide range of emotions throughout the play as she interacts with her son and the people in her life.

Harris herself is a mother of three and draws from her own personal experiences in bringing life to the character.

“I can relate to the anxiety and the stress and the worry about sending them out into the world,” she said. While her children are not teenagers yet, she still worries about a future where she won’t always be able to protect them.

However, she’s also working to fully develop Nye, giving the character her own personality. The cast has been working on exercises where they explore the differences between the actor and the character and ask, “What might my character do that I would not?”

Isaiah Lambert portrays Nye’s teen son Omari.

Isaiah Lambert and Kelsey Harris work with the director, Adrianna Jones, far right, during a rehearsal of “Pipeline.” –
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Isaiah Lambert and Kelsey Harris work with the director, Adrianna Jones, far right, during a rehearsal of “Pipeline.” – Credit: Dee Hölzel

Lambert is 21 years old, so he’s a bit older than the character he plays, but close enough in age that he has not forgotten what Case High School was like when he was a student there.

“I used to be him,” Lambert said of the Omari. “I can relate.”

Like the character he portrays, Lambert was raised by a single mother, had pressures in high school, and struggled with anxiety and depression.

Lambert had music and his writing to help him overcome the past, and he’s now a student at Gateway Technical College and a community activist.

He said he really wanted to be a part of the production of “Pipeline” and acknowledged it “takes dark roads that other commercial productions might not.”

However, it will be a show that opens minds, he continued, and provides insight into the issues teens are facing and the factors that lead to the public school-to-prison pipeline – the story the play is trying to tell – in a way that everyone can understand.

Justin Muhammad (a stage name) plays the school security guard who acts as a mentor to Omari. In his professional life, Muhammad is a mentor for young people in the juvenile justice system. Muhammad said he hoped people would bring their teens to the show and hoped it would spark important conversations with teens about the importance of perseverance.

Aryanna Crenshaw, 18, portrays the feisty Jasmine, Omari’s girlfriend. She has been a dancer for many years but is relatively new to drama. She is also a student at Carthage College where she is majoring in psychology/pre-med.

Crenshaw described the characters and scenarios as very relatable to the audience. She added while the play does highlight some of the challenges in the African American community, it is also about how tight-knit the community is, where people will fight for those they love.

“You see Jasmine fighting for what she loves, and Nye fighting for what she loves,” Crenshaw said. “That love is a common bonding between us all.”

Supporting the arts

BACR is a nonprofit organization that promotes, highlights and inspires African American artists as well as provides a platform for cultural enrichment activities for individuals and families.

Harris said her hope was that people attended to the show and supported the arts.

“This is important,” she said. “The messages are important, the arts are important, as is supporting the arts.”

She added, “I think it’s essential that the younger kids see it, too, see it happening, see us putting this show on and giving this to the community, and letting the community know that it’s okay to do things like this …. to step out of your comfort zone with these kinds of experiences.”

To attend ‘Pipeline’

“Pipeline” contains some profanity and strong language, so it may not be appropriate for those younger than 16 years old. Discretion is advised.

“Pipeline” will be performed at Park High School on Friday, Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 16 at 3 p.m.

For ticket information: PIPELINE Tickets | Eventbrite.

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