Children's Theatre's 'The Magic Kite' Inspired By Stories Of Local Immigrant Children
The Children’s Theatre of Charlotte debuts a new, original play this weekend that centers around a young boy, Tito, whose life is thrown off balance when his father is abruptly deported. Distressed, the boy sets off to find his father with the help of a magic, flying kite.
The play, titled ‘The Magic Kite,’ dramatizes the real-life stories of dozens of children living in Charlotte whose parents have been deported, children like 10-year-old Emanuel Hernandez.
Last weekend, Children’s Theatre hosted a kite-flying event at Romare Bearden Park in uptown Charlotte. Near the edge of the park, Hernandez stands flying a simple, white kite as dozens of other kids and their parents sprint around him sending their own homemade kites flying in the breeze.
Emanuel, a fourth-grader, says he likes video games. And for an elementary schooler, he’s surprisingly stoic, a man of few words. Most of the other kids at this event have no clue what the new show is about - but not Emanuel. He’s all too familiar with the play’s storyline, even though he hasn’t seen it yet. When he was little, his father was deported by the U.S. government, leaving him and his mother to fend for themselves.
But this story doesn’t begin with Emanuel. It actually begins with an artist who now works several miles east of uptown, in the art studios of the Latin American Contemporary Art Project.
Her name is Rosalia Torres-Weiner, and in 2012, she was working as a commercial muralist in Charlotte. At that time, Rosalia didn’t know many immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, but she had friends who did, and they told her stories of families separated by deportations.
She says she wanted to reach out to the kids left behind. She wanted to create a superhero, or a super-something that could bring comfort them. Then, one day, it came to her.
“I thought in my mind, my superhero would be this Latino boy. His name is Tito,” she says, “And he would lose his dad to deportation, but he would discover the powers of a magic kite, and he would take to the sky in search of his dad.”
Armed with inspiration, she pulled magazine clippings, fabric swatches, and multi-colored ribbons. She created over a dozen multi-media illustrations, each telling part of Tito’s story, like an oversized comic strip.
She was ready to share her illustrations with the kids, but there was just one small problem, she had no idea where to find them.
On a friend’s recommendation, Rosalia attended Mass at a large Catholic church in east Charlotte: Our Lady of Guadalupe. At the end of the service, she explained her project to the congregation and invited immigrant children to meet with her in the back to share their stories, and make their own kites.
“A bunch of kids came to my table, and they were afraid, they were angry, they were sad, they didn’t want to talk.” She says, “So I had to figure out how to deal with those children.”
And Rosalia noticed one kid who seemed especially closed off. He said his name was Emanuel. He was six years old at the time.
“Emanuel just didn’t want to draw.” Rosalia says, “And so I started talking to him.”
“Are you upset?” she asked. “Do you miss your dad?”
“Nope,” he replied.
Roslia tried again. “How about your mom?” she asked, “Does your mom miss your dad?”
He thought, then said, “Yes.”
Sensing that she was getting somewhere, Rosalia pressed on. “What does your mom do?” she asked.
“My mom cries. She cries a lot,” he said.
“Where does your mom cry?”
“In the kitchen,” he said.
“You know, Emanuel, when I paint, and I put those emotions [down on paper], I feel better afterwards.” Rosalia said, “Let’s draw your mother crying in the kitchen.”
So Emanuel picked up some crayons and began drawing. Other kids drew similarly heartbreaking scenes on their kites. A father getting handcuffed while a mother and children watch from inside a house. Siblings with large, blue tears rolling down their faces.
Over the next few months, Rosalia held more kite-making workshops, and soon after, many the kites went on display at the Levine Museum of the New South. That’s about the time Adam Burke, artistic director of Children’s Theatre, heard about the project and realized it was a story he needed to adapt for the stage, even if the subject might make some uncomfortable.
“We’re not trying to make a statement of we either need a clearer path to citizenship or a more difficult path to citizenship,” Burke says, “We’re not saying that we need a clearer entry into the country or a more difficult entry into the country.
“What this is saying, is there are children that are here, now, that are impacted when their family gets split up. That’s a problem. That’s what, to me, the play’s about. And that’s the story, and that’s the conversation that needs to be had.”
The show has been previewing in elementary schools over the past year, but tonight’s performance will be the first in a formal theater with live musicians. Rosalia will be there, and along with her, Emanuel. It’ll be his first chance to see his story re-imagined on stage.
The Magic Kite runs now through May 1st.
This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.