Dandelions in the Wind started life as Freedom Sings. The initial development work caught the attention of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Britain's largest repertory theatre outside of London and Stratford. The Playhouse, with its national and international reputation as one of Britain's most exciting producing theatres, invited the community cast to stage six shows in 2003. This was the first experience of theatre for most of the inner-city youth, yet the show was incredibly powerful, evoking much emotion from cast and audience alike.
"I was moved like never before . . . to say that this musical is powerful does not begin to describe what I saw . . . I guarantee that if you are lucky enough to find a ticket you will leave the theatre a changed person. This is a play that the world needs to see . . . it holds up a mirror and shows us the error of our ways, shows us where hate can lead us and the damage it can do. It also shows us the power of love and the necessity of it today"
- Nick Ahad, Theatre Critic
The musical's journey to Toronto has been a long one. The original script was written around the year 2000, and the lead characters were Martin Luther King Jr and his wife Coretta. Jennifer inserted her own experience of racism, but she and Keith were not big players in the original storyline. The show was performed in the UK in 2003 with the blessings of Mrs. Coretta Scott King.
"After the success of the UK production," Jennifer reflects, "I was ready to move it forward, but the King Foundation denied me a license on the grounds that it contained Dr. King's copyrighted material. I risked being sued if I continued. I was devastated. Friends who had seen the show in England encouraged me to make it about Keith and I, but that meant digging too deep into the pain of the past. And anyway, the racism that we experienced was in England, not the States! I didn't want to write about England because that would have meant sacrificing the material I had already written about America; material that I thought was good and that I was attached to, Also, I didnt think that anyone would be interested in my personal story with Keith ... neither of us were celebrities or had made awesome speeches like Martin Luther King!
It took years for Jennifer to even look at the script again, but then, finally, she started the first of many re-writes, eliminating the Kings, and focusing on her personal experience of racism with Keith. She called it LOVE IN THE FACE OF HATE, realizing that and no matter which continent we were on, the same emotion applied. But the only way I could preserve so much of the original material was to transpose my own experience from England into the American Civil Rights era. I want to make it clear that although Keith and I travelled to America, we did not participate in the civil rights events portrayed in this play. Our experience, however, as an interracial couple is replicated accurately, and I hope that my story sheds light on the young people who were courageous enough to win civil rights for us all.
The title of the play changed many times, too, but when Jennifer decided to include the true story of her little girl picking dandelions for her daddy, the title Dandelions in the Wind was born. It also ties in with Iyabo's earlier monologue about the diaspora of the African people and the way in which dandelions are perceived.
In 2014, Quisha Wint read the script and fell in love with the material. Jennifer and Quisha formed KJ Group in 2016, their mandate to use excellent entertainment to both educate, touch hearts, and inspire positive change; their vision to bridge the rift between ethnicity, culture, and faith, and confront racial stereotypes while promoting healing and equality. As mothers themselves they have a heart for youth, as both performers and audiences, believing that this next generation will change the world.
Dandelions in the Wind made its Canadian premiere at Daniels Spectrum in Toronto with a 2-week run in February 2017. Weekday matinees were performed for students and an online Teachers' Guide offered free so that the learning experience could be continued in the classroom. Evening and weekend performances were offered for the general public.
In 2020 they federally incorporated Dandelions in the Wind as a Not-For-Profit business., reaffirming their mission to reach youth. Everything was in place to stage the show in new locations. But then Covid struck, and live theatre became impossible. A friend suggested turning the script into a podcast.
"It seemed crazy at first," Jennifer recalls. "Theatre, is an audio-visual experience, so how can you do it without the visual ... without sets, props, costumes and lighting! But when I tried adapting the script for audio, I remembered my early childhood ... before the days of television, when every evening the family would gather around the radio to listen to the next episode of The Archers. It was magical. Youth today have grown up on imagery, but radio engages the imagination far more ... we see with our minds! And that can be a very good thing."
DANDELIONS in the WIND is now moving forward with audio theatre - a 6 part anti-racism program based on the original stage show. Although suitable for all all ages from 10 to 100, our focus is on youth. We are particularly interested in having educators move alongside us. If you would like to be part of this amazing journey please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org