Talia Robinson had never been to Charlotte when a friend called her Connecticut home suggesting she audition for the lead role in “Grace for President,” which is entering its final weekend at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.
Slight of build and just 5 feet 4 inches tall, Robinson, who holds a degree in musical theater from Emerson College in Boston, eventually landed the part, playing the role of a precocious 3rd grader who looks at a wall of U.S. presidents and wonders, “Where are the girls?”
As the Children’s Theatre production draws to a close amid an election year that has been anything but ordinary, Robinson said she has been surprised by the enthusiasm shown for a play that, as much as anything, is a clever history lesson in how the Electoral College works.
“They respond in such a tangible and electric kind of way,” she said in a telephone interviews with Qcitymetro.com. “That has completely opened my eyes to the impact that children’s theater has on our youth.
“It makes me so excited and hopeful for our future,” she continued. “The way they respond is unlike any other performance I’ve ever done in my entire life. It is so gratifying to see their little faces out there and to teach them a thing or two.”
“Grace for President,” of course, is more than just an hour-long history lesson. It’s also a musical reminder of the importance of sometimes mustering the courage to ask “why?” and even “why not?”
When the play opens in Mrs. Barrington’s classroom at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, students are getting a lesson in U.S. presidents. Frustrated that no woman is among the 44 faces staring back at her from the classroom wall, Grace decides that she will run for class president. But to be elected, she must defeat a popular male opponent with noted credentials and a self-image the size of a yellow school bus. (Sounds familiar?)
Rob Odum, CTC’s associate director of marketing, said the play is not meant to be political and that any resemblance to current events are coincidental. With music and lyrics by Joan Cushing, the play was adapted from a popular 2008 children’s book written by Kelly S. DiPucchio. Odum said CTC began work on the production long before anyone knew which U.S. politicians would be nominated to represent their respective parties.
“We were aware, once the political landscape settled into what it is, that there might be some people suggesting that we were trying to take some sort of political stance with the show,” he said. “And that really wasn’t the case.”
Odum said parents (and their children) should focus, instead, on the production’s intended message – “…this idea that girls, boys, whoever it is, can dream to be whatever they want to be… not letting kids be defined by gender roles and typical career paths and dreaming beyond the stereotypes, whether it’s in politics, arts, science, whatever their endeavors.”
At a recent school performance, young theatergoers appeared actively engaged. They cheers, chanted and clapped, at times even jumping to their feet in enthusiastic displays of support.
Robinson, meanwhile, who has mastered the herky-jerky movements and vocal inflections of an actual 3rd grader, was convincing in her role as Grace.
“I’m told that I look like I’m 12, even though I’m 23,” she said. “I think that probably had something to do with it. And I generally have a positive outlook, and that seems to play pretty young as well.”
Robinson said she has enjoyed her time in Charlotte and hopes to return some day for another CTC production. Until then, she said, she will likely head to New York to look for other acting jobs.
As for the play itself, which is built on the premise that no woman has ever been elected U.S. president…well, what happens to future productions if Hillary Clinton gets elected on Nov. 8? Does “Grace for President” then go into theatrical mothballs, never to be seen again?
Odum, the CTC marketing executive, pondered that possibility.
“I guess they would have to slightly adapt it,” he said, “or it might be looked at more as a historical document.”
Friday, Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 5, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 6, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.