Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance celebrates Black Girl Magic with world premiere ‘Magic’

News Image Opening March 18, Kiyaana Cox Jones’ play takes a Restorative Theater approach to the story of a young woman on a quest to find her magic

By: Clarissa Shirley ’22  Sunday, March 7, 2021 10:24 PM

News Image
"Magic" playwright and director Kiyaana Cox Jones rehearses on Zoom with the cast of the production

The Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance Department returns to the (virtual) stage after a year-long hiatus with the world premiere of “Magic,” a Restorative Theater production written and directed by Kiyaana Cox Jones, with original choreography by Randall Anthony Smith, assistant professor of Black dance and choreography. Opening March 18, the show kicks off Muhlenberg’s semester-long Mnemonic Theatre Festival.

Magic, a young Black woman, wakes up after an accident, unable to remember what makes her magical. With the help of Griots — Black women who tell their ancestral stories — and her own ancestors, Magic undergoes a quest to find her magic.

The play runs March 18-21, and admission is free. The show will be performed live and transmitted in webinar format. Patrons can register to attend at muhlenberg.edu/seeashow.

Krystal Hall, a senior theater major at Muhlenberg College, is playing the title character of Magic. Hall says she sees parallels between Magic’s story and her own.

“She’s really persevered through all of her trauma,” Hall says. “She has forgotten how special she is and she is on a journey to get that back. It made me want to bring her to life and tell her story for those that are also in a similar place in their life.”

Hall likens working with Jones to going to a wonderful therapy session.

“Kiyaana does an excellent job of making sure the actor is doing well before we dive into the character and the world of the play,” Hall says. “She makes sure we are okay as actors so that we can be our best selves to portray the characters. It’s a very healthy environment.”

Jones says that prioritizing the emotional and mental health of the performers is integral to the practice of Restorative Theatre. She is currently studying at the International Institute of Restorative Practice, in Bethlehem, and she says her studies there have informed her approach to the rehearsal process. She says she believes theatre can and should be a spiritual conduit for healing, and describes the rehearsal process for “Magic” as restorative and spiritual.

“Restorative Practice repairs harm done to a community,” Jones says. “Instead of just repairing the harm, there are steps in place to prevent the harm from happening.”

As part of this process, Jones asks the actors to undertake “self-character analysis,” in which the actors focus on discovering their characters’ wants and needs and examining how they intersect with their own.

“We have built a creative space understanding that something more than just reading the words is required,” Jones says. “There has to be a part of you in everything, even if you are playing an antagonist. You need to find the good in them.”

The production will feature choreography by Randall Anthony Smith, assistant professor of dance at Muhlenberg.

“These artists are amazing,” Smith says. “It’s so important for me as a Black Queer cis-gendered male choreographer to acknowledge that I am being invited to a table that I didn’t build. This production is their domain.”

Smith says he is honored to be collaborating with Jones.

“She is so talented,” he says. “I don’t know how I am so blessed to be working with her to this extent. We’ve been partners in creation for the last few years. She has graciously opened up her heart to us.”

The choreography for the play will showcase Black modern dance and contemporary dance, Smith says.

“I’m not centralizing the dance to one style or genre,” he says. “The work that I do is different. I like to speak to the bodies in the room and what they are capable of.”

The play features videography by junior Jill Smith and costume design by resident designer Alexis Gurst. The piece will utilize multi-media elements to tell the story, including clips from news stories and the actors’ own personal videos reflecting on the process.

Jones has integrated a lot of popular music into the play, including music by Aretha Franklin, Lil Kim, and Megan Thee Stallion.

“Griots are Black storytellers. They spread their ancestor’s history,” Jones says. “These singers are Griots. This cast is also Griots, sharing empowerment with anyone ready to access their own magic.”

Both Jones and Smith say that they believe the play will resonate with a broad audience.

“The play is centralized around the Black female experience, but that is not to say that this encapsulates every female Black woman,” Smith says. “I know that there are a lot of Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous people — marginalized people — that will see themselves in ‘Magic.’”

“Magic” is the first production in the mostly virtual Mnemonic Theatre Festival at Muhlenberg, running through May. Information on all seven productions in the festival can be found at muhlenberg.edu/seeashow

“Magic” runs Thursday and Friday, March 18-19, at 7 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, March 20-21, at 3 p.m. Patrons can register to see the show at muhlenberg.edu/seeashow.

About the Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance Department
Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theater program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.

About Muhlenberg College
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg is a highly selective, private, four-year residential, liberal arts college offering baccalaureate and graduate programs. With an enrollment of approximately 2,200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences; selected preprofessional programs, including accounting, business, education and public health; and progressive workforce-focused post-baccalaureate certificates and master’s degrees. Located in Allentown, Pennsylvania, approximately 90 miles west of New York City, Muhlenberg is a member of the Centennial Conference, competing in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.