Akeelah and the Bee stage play comes to Houston

Akeelah and the Bee, based on the screenplay by Doug Atchison and adapted for the stage by Cheryl L. West will take place Saturdays, November 4 and 11 at 11:00am and 2:00pm at MST’s Midtown location, 3400 Main St. in Matchbox4 at the MATCH facility.

The play is centered around, Akeelah, an 11 year old girl whose courage touches the hearts of her coach, her school and her neighborhood. She has a gift for words and a determined spirit. Despite the objections of her mother and the tough world around her, she enters spelling contests and earns a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The screenplay was released in the United States on April 28, 2006, and was positively received by critics and audiences. It received a number of awards and nominations, including the Black Reel Awards and the NAACP Image Awards.

In the Houston stage play, Ashley Shaunte stars as Akeelah. Shaunte is a Main Street Theater Teaching Artist, including technical support for student productions of A Wrinkle in Time and Cymbeline; Houston Community College: The Skin of Our Teeth; other productions include Little Women the Musical and A Christmas Story. In this role, she reflects on experiences from her childhood that are parallel to those of her stage character.

“I grew up on the south side of Houston, attending 2 different elementary schools.  I did the spelling bee myself,” said Shaunte. “In elementary school, I was reminded constantly that I’m a girl and can’t do certain things, including win the spelling bee. Unfortunately, I allowed those words to take root. Girls would bully me about my hair. They hated my curls so much so that I begged my mom for a relaxer. I tried my best to conform to the norms of other people. I guess I connect with Akeelah because I understand that I’m not from the best part of the city but there’s a fight in me that reminds me I can keep going.”

The play alludes to the importance of community as well as to problems people in predominantly minority communities face.

“I love the fact that Akeelah and the Bee teaches young people not to let their socioeconomic background, race or gender dictate what is possible in their lives,” says MST Theater for Youth Producing Director Vivienne M. St. John.  “I love that this play depicts a middle school girl overcoming her background and the obstacles that challenge her – and she doesn’t allow any of it to defeat her. Akeelah reminds us all that if you work hard at something, you can do anything.”

Akeelah and the Bee is directed by Troy Scheid who most recently directed Mockingbird for MST.  The cast includes Estée Burk, Joey Castorena, Sam Flash, Hannah Lee, Pin Lim, Chaney Moore, Joyce Anastasia Murray, Prince Nnaji, Devin Norwood, Alan Nguyen, Carian Lynée Parker, Ashley Shaunte, Peter Ton, Jason Wright, and Erica Young. The Akeelah design team is Kerry Bechtel (costume), Ryan McGettigan (set), David Gipson (lighting), Shawn W. St. John (sound), and Mark B. Robbins (props).  Rachael Fernandez is the stage manager.

Main Street Theater offers Accommodations Performances.  October 29 at 3:30pm is a Sensory-Friendly performance.  November 11 at 11:00am has an Audio Description opportunity available: just ask for a headset at Will Call.  And ASL interpreter will be present for the 2:00pm performance on November 11.  Tickets are $18 – $22, depending on section.  Large print playbills are also available at Will Call. Recommended for 5th grade and up.  Children under the age of 3 (including sleeping babies) not allowed in the theater

All tickets are on sale via phone at 713.524.6706 or online at MainStreetTheater.com. The play is recommended for children in 5th grade and higher.