Sensory-Friendly Performance of ‘The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen’ This Sunday at Imagination Stage (sponsored)

by Patrick Herron

There will be a Sensory Friendly Performance of The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen this Sunday at Imagination Stage in Bethesda. Adaptations for Sensory-Friendly performances include:

  • A pre-visit social story, video, and other preparatory materials for parents and children explaining what to expect from the performance;
  • Glow sticks raised to share when a surprise will happen on stage;
  • Reduction of the sound level and bright stage lighting;
  • Low lighting in the house so patrons can easily move around or exit the theatre;
  • Limited crowds and “seating holes” to allow space between parties;
  • Designated spaces for those who need a quieter area to take a break;
  • Allowance for the use of tablets and smartphones for communication.
  • Tickets can be purchased here.

Per Imagination Stage: Imagination Stage™, the metro DC region’s largest professional theatre for children, debuts its latest new play commission, The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen, adapted for the stage by Gloria Bond Clunie from the book by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Angelisa Gillyard directs. Set in Harlem, this intergenerational story is a charming celebration of family and community ties. The show runs through April 8 and is best for ages 5+.

About the show: Kameeka is confident that she will finally beat her rival, Jamara, and become the Hula-Hoopin’ Queen of 139th Street. But Mama reminds her that today is their neighbor Miz Adeline’s birthday, and Kameeka has important chores to do to prepare for the party. Kameeka is so preoccupied with thoughts of victory that she accidentally ruins Miz Adeline’s birthday cake and has to own up that there won’t be a cake for her special day. Disappointment dissipates quickly when Miz Adeline confesses that she’s also got the hula-hoopin’ itch! The young and the young at heart spill into the street to celebrate with timeless fun.

Not only does Oprah Winfrey recommend the book “The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen,” she reads it on YouTube. This is a wonderful way to become acquainted with the story and also to see how much depth Clunie adds to the characters and their relationships in bringing the story to the stage. These relationships are at the heart of the story, as mothers, aunties, and neighbors lovingly dole out advice. And, of course, the hula-hooping becomes delightfully real, incorporating choreography, rhyme, and music into its own hip-hop adjacent art form.

Playwright Clunie says that the hula hoop is “an embodiment of the freedom and joy of childhood. A bright, sparkly neon circle of hope, and desire, and energy that we pick up and spin around with every ounce of our being. Children, and the child in all of us, need that kind of joy! Circles connecting a community.”

Director Gillyard loves that in the play “kids are just being kids. In my opinion, too often kids, particularly Black kids, just don’t get a chance to really enjoy their childhood. They are bombarded with adult situations and realities and are forced to make adult decisions. The children in this play get to spend time being carefree and doing what they love.” Gilyard hopes that children will leave the theatre realizing that “forgiveness and love are real. Without giving too much away, true friendship can survive the mistakes we all occasionally make, but we have to also learn to forgive ourselves.”

Founding Artistic Director Janet Stanford worked with Dwayne Hartford, the Artistic Director of Childsplay (Tempe, AZ) as their two companies co-commissioned the script and hosted development weeks in each venue. Stanford says that “Dwayne and I share a love for this joyful story in which Kameeka creates a problem and then solves it in a beautiful way. The story shows how a ‘village’ can be the best place for a child to get the intergenerational support, love, and guidance that kids everywhere deserve.”

Childsplay’s production opens April 29. Managing Director Jason Najjoum says, “Imagination Stage’s history of commissioning talented writers and giving full productions to the scripts we develop is inspiring. The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen is a sparkling example of how a talented group of artists can take a lovely book and make it truly sing on the stage.” Over the past 25 years, Imagination Stage has commissioned early works from Karen Zacarias, Psalmayene 24, Deborah
Wicks La Puma, and Joan Cushing, among others.

The cast is Tamieka Chavis, Jasmine Joy, Kalen Robinson, Deidra LaWan Starnes, Alana Thomas, and Renee Wilson. The production team includes Scenic Designer Natsu Onoda Power, Costume Designer Alexis Chaney, and Lighting Designer Kevin Alexander. Latif Schofield is Hula-Hooping Coach and Rox White is Music Director for the
hula-hoopin’ scenes. Luis Ramon Cordovez is Stage Manager. The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen runs February 15 – April 8, with general public performances Saturdays and Sundays and school field trip matinees Tuesdays-Fridays. See the full
schedule on our website. The play, to be staged in the Annette M. and Theodore N. Lerner Family Theatre, is best for ages 5-11. Tickets are $12 – $36 (group rates available) and may be purchased online at or by phone at 301-280-1660. Members of the media: for more information or to schedule interviews, contact Laurie
Levy-Page at 301-280-1642 or

Special performances:
Sensory-Friendly performance: March 12 at 10:00
ASL-Interpreted performance: March 19 at 1:00
Next up at Imagination Stage is an encore production of Wake Up, Brother Bear (March
18 – April 16), a show for ages 1-5. This summer Nate, the Great will run from June 21 –
August 11.
The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen
Based on the book by Thelma Lynne Godin
Illustrated by Vanessa Braantley-Newton
Adapted by Gloria Bond Clunie
Directed by Angelisa Gillyard
February 15 – April 8, 2023

Founded 43 years ago, Imagination Stage is a holistic theatre arts organization for all children and youth. Through award-winning professional theatre, arts education, and community-based theatre programming, the organization helps children and young people develop a deep appreciation of theatre arts, while building a sense of self and social understanding. Based in Bethesda, MD, its programming serves children and families throughout the DMV.


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