When Minneapolis playwright Kim Hines agreed to adapt the children’s book Alice for the stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C., she knew two things. First, she’d have to make some changes to turn the book into an effective play. Second, those changes would have to pass muster with the book’s author, comedienne, actor and best-selling author Whoopi Goldberg.
Goldberg, whose credits include leading roles in the films The Color Purple, Ghost and Sister Act, and her Tony-nominated one-woman show, Whoopi: The 20th Anniversary Show, is known for picking projects where she can have complete control, Hines said.
“Some authors, they get real testy even though they know that you’re going to have to [make changes] if they want [it] to be a play,” said Hines. “Some authors feel that everything they write is engraved in stone, and that you just shouldn’t change it.”
Fortunately for Hines, Goldberg wasn’t one of them.
In Alice, a young African-American girl living in New Jersey dreams of being rich one day. She journeys to New York City with her best friend, an invisible rabbit named Sal, and Robin, a card-carrying misfit. Along the way they meet a cast of oddball characters and challenges that ultimately show Alice that she’s already rich—she has a wealth of friends.
Hines wanted to add new characters and strengthen some of the existing characters. “I wanted the lessons that Alice learned to be clearer. I wanted each person that she met on her journey to teach her something. I wanted it to be a real clear journey,” Hines explained. “I have to take my hat off to Whoopi for allowing me to do that.”
Goldberg also let Hines pick her director—something Goldberg had said she wanted to do. Hines selected director Shirley Jo Finney, whom she worked with during a production of From the Mississippi Delta at the Illusion Theater in Minneapolis.
“It felt really good that she trusted me,” Hines said. “And I think it helped that we were both black females. So she just really said, ‘Look, let me stand back and you guys do this.’”
Hines has been in Washington since early November attending rehearsals and working with Finney to further refine the script—a process that writers often don’t get to participate in, she said. That collaboration has resulted in some changes that surprised her. During rehearsal, she found out one of the actors could juggle and do magic tricks.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, let me really rewrite this scene.’ I did to accommodate his talents. And that’s way cool.…I found out another actor, he’s like the man with a trillion accents.” So she rewrote a section partly in Spanish and had the actor adopt a Spanish accent, and rewrote another in French.
Alice, which opens Dec. 9, is the inaugural production of the Kennedy Center’s New Family Theater, part of a five-year, $125 million commitment to arts education programs. It’s Hines’ third project for the Kennedy Center. She also wrote the adaptation of My Lord, What a Morning: The Marian Anderson Story, which later toured nationally. Alice is expected to hit the road in September 2006.
“This has taken off in a way that we just didn’t expect,” Hines said. “It’s really exciting.”