‘Crowns’ musical gives hats off to a Black culture staple

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Theatre Lawrence’s upcoming production of “Crowns” is premiering soon after Lawrence became the first city in Kansas to pass a CROWN Act ordinance.

Though unplanned, the timing was divine, Director Annette Billings says. “I think it is justice showing itself.”

The Lawrence City Commission on Aug. 15 voted unanimously to adopt a local version of the CROWN Act. The ordinance creates protections against race-based hair discrimination in the workplace and other accommodation spaces.

With similar undertones of identity and freedom to embrace heritage, the production of “Crowns” celebrates hats as a fashion staple to traditional Black church folks. The musical is adapted by playwright Regina Taylor from photographers Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry’s book by the same name.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Gay Glenn, at right, puts a hat on Tiffani Smith during a dress rehearsal.

The story is that of a young Black woman who comes to stay with relatives after her brother is killed. She learns from the women around her, who reminisce about seeing their mothers and grandmothers adorned in their vibrant church dresses and hats. They tell stories about lessons passed through generations.

Annette Billings

Depicting the traditional Black Christian church, Billings said the musical draws from themes of faith, fellowship, jubilation, celebration and triumph over hardships. A mix of gospel, soul and rap music are woven throughout. 

Billings said she hopes audience members are thoroughly entertained but also leave inspired by the strong sense of community among the characters.

“I hope they will go away feeling renewed and reminded of the power of community,” she said.

The all-Black cast features actors from Lawrence and Topeka, including Andrea Graham, Kimberly Allen, Gay Glenn, Janine Colter, Tiffani Smith and Joseph Brown.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times From left to right, Andrea Graham, Kimberly Allen, Janine Colter and Gay Glenn are pictured during dress rehearsal for “Crowns.”

Billings, who’s based in Topeka, said working with the cast and the crew has made her first show guest directing at Theatre Lawrence a memorable one — one that she feels a personal connection to.

“It has been unforgettable,” she said. “I think we’ve had a particularly keen sense of collaboration and communication, and I have labeled ‘Crowns’ ‘the little show that could.’ Every obstacle we have encountered, we have overcome, and we look forward to giving just a remarkable show for the people that attend.”


“Crowns” performances on opening weekend are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 22 and 23, as well as 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24, all at Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive.

Performances will continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28, 29 and 30, with the final show to run at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1. The Friday, Sept. 29 performance will be audio-described.

Tickets cost $31 each and can be purchased on Theatre Lawrence’s website.

Each show runs approximately 90 minutes, and there are no intermissions, so take restroom breaks and maybe get two drinks instead of one before it begins, Billings suggested.

A post-performance panel discussion will directly follow the final show on Sunday, Oct. 1. Billings along with Rev. Rachel Williams-Glenn, pastor of St. Luke AME Church, and Amber Sellers, Lawrence city commissioner, will tie together aspects of Black history.

For more information about “Crowns,” visit the Theatre Lawrence webpage for the show via wp.theatrelawrence.com.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Andrea Graham, at center, is pictured with Kimberly Allen, at left, and Gay Glen, at right.
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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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