There are a few places in Cincinnati where you are sure to draw glances from regular patrons, likely peering out from behind their soft covered classic, sipping the same cup of coffee for hours, and for a moment feel taken to some dark corner in Europe far away from home. Sitwell’s café in Clifton has that potential; it draws out the vagabond, the hippie, the dreamer, the beat poet, the mysterious innovator in us all.
So, what better place for Nikki Booker, Catie O’Keefe, and Jeni Jenkins to have their first encounter together?
It’s July and a gorgeous, sunny day. Clouds cascade above, casting light shadows across Ludlow Avenue, while inside three women gathered around a table tucked out of view of the general public begin making plans. Nikki has called the meeting.
“I want to make this story come to life,” she says, running a hand over the wrinkled cover of her favorite book, Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community. “And by come to life, I mean turn it into a play.”
Flipping through the pages, stopping to explain certain photos or read from it aloud, it’s as if she’s holding her very own scrapbook of Mr. Welcome’s life. She knows the book from cover to cover. She has seen the story play out on stage in her mind. But now she has to convince Catie and Jeni, award-winning playwright and producer respectively, to join her in making this dream happen.
“This describes me. I feel it,” Nikki says before reading a passage.
“At first glance Waddie Welcome looks anything but influential, beset with cerebral palsy and approaching nine full decades, he is mostly quiet and unassuming. But beneath the years, beneath the persona of disability, lies fierce determination, a determination that has influenced thousands across the state, the nation and the world…”
With that, the silence of invention and creation settle across the round, wooden table. Nikki waits patiently for Catie and Jeni’s response.
“So… where are you thinking the play will be?” Catie breaks the silence.
“I already know the place,” Nikki responded reservedly. “If I’m going to do this, I might as well go big.”
What transpires next is the start of a great collaboration.
Since this day, Nikki has traveled to Savannah to meet the author, developed a strong production team with Catie and Jeni as avid supporters, and continues to inspire people in Cincinnati with the story by hosting readings throughout the city.
As for opening night, the picture in Nikki’s mind is growing clearer, and is just as big as she imagined it.
The play will premier on stage at the historic Emery Theatre, “a 1,600-seat, acoustically pure symphony hall,” bequeathed by Mary Emery 100 years ago with the vision that, “high-quality art inspires individuals and communities to invest in themselves, and that inclusion and respect lead to a better society.”
“I am making history,” Nikki now says. “Not only for me but for this whole state, the world, for people with disabilities… Don’t just judge a book by it’s cover, you have to find the book and read its pages.”
Or in this case, watch the story come to life on the big stage.
To support the adaptation and theatrical performance of Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community, go to Kickstarter and contribute today.