Child abuse and human trafficking put in spotlight

The Human Race workshops the play ‘Gingerbread Children.’

According to the latest statistics, every year 3.3 million reports of child abuse are made nationwide involving nearly 6 million children. New York playwright Michael Slade boldly confronts the pain of these stark, and growing, numbers in his new play “Gingerbread Children.”

The play is undergoing a two-week developmental workshop at the Human Race Theatre Company culminating in staged readings Saturday and next Sunday, March 9-10, at The Loft Theatre.

Interweaving four stories into a portrait of multigenerational abuse, “Gingerbread Children,” inaugurating the Race’s Marsha Hanna New Play Workshops program, will feature 10 actors portraying more than 30 characters under the direction of Margarett Perry. The play is told through the eyes of a devoutly religious woman whose prayers serve as a gateway into the action.

“This play speaks to how we turn a blind eye to child abuse and so many other kinds of abuse children encounter whether physical, verbal, emotional or bullying,” said Slade, whose psychological thriller “Under a Red Moon” received a co-world premiere by the Race and Covington, Kentucky’s Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center last fall under Perry’s direction. “How many times do we see a parent beating a child in the street? We don’t do anything. We don’t get involved. And then there’s the Penn State situation. Jerry Sandusky is a pedophile, but what about all of the football players on that team over all those years? Sandusky brought little boys on road trips. The players must have noticed something. They must have at least questioned it. But nobody said anything. They just let it slide because Sandusky was more important somehow than those children’s lives.”

“Gingerbread Children,” which contains strong adult language/themes and is recommended for mature audiences, received developmental readings at New York’s Lark Theatre and Los Angeles’ Blank Theatre. Slade, nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award as a member of the writing team of ABC’s “One Life to Live,” said that the play is his toughest to date, but has high hopes for the exploration and advancement the workshop will provide.

“This play is absolutely the most challenging I’ve done,” he said. “All of my work isn’t dark, but I’ve been in a dark period. This piece is also large, so the ambition of it is an exciting challenge. But this workshop is about clarity. Since there isn’t a need for a fully realized production, the time is focused on the text. Stories have changed, characters have come and gone, and it’s cleaner. It’s so easy to get distracted and go off on a tangent, so I want to keep making sure everything is focused in the right direction. I think the play is in a really good place right now. Largely, what I want to accomplish in the workshop process is taking the (text) to the next level.”

“This is actually our fourth project with Michael,” said Race producing artistic director Kevin Moore in a press statement. “Having seen his work on ‘The Black Crook Project’ in our Musical Theatre Workshops and his commissioned piece, ‘Change,’ for our 2011 In-School Tour, we’ve become strong advocates of his talents. (‘Gingerbread Children’) had been on our ‘short list’ for a few years. Now, with our expansion into developing new plays, it seemed like the perfect inaugural project. Marsha really appreciated Michael’s intelligent and powerful writing, and I know she would definitely approve of this selection.”

“I’m so grateful to Kevin Moore and the Human Race for embracing me and my work,” Slade said. “Because of the size and scope of the play, the ability to have a group of actors and a director with me in the room to work on it is just thrilling. I think it’s important for theaters to respect older works as well as new works, but if you don’t do new works, art becomes museum pieces.”

The “Gingerbread Children” cast consists of Andrew Ian Adams, Kay Bosse, Jamie Cordes, Charity Farrell, Caitlin Larsen, Jacob McGlaun, Robin Post, Matthew Smith, Scott Stoney and K.L. Storer.

“The amount, the sheer volume, of theater, dance and music Dayton supports is really extraordinary and impressive,” said Slade, whose World War II drama “And a Child Shall Lead” will be presented by Zoot Theatre Company next month. “Given the fact that theater should provoke conversation, especially considering what (‘Gingerbread Children’) is about, I can’t wait to find out how this play is making people think, which is important for me and my process of developing the play.”

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