AOP’s ‘Teen Dad’ Nov. 2-5 centers on healing in BIPOC family

AOP’s ‘Teen Dad’ Nov. 2-5 centers on healing in BIPOC family

Playwright Adrienne Dawes found inspiration for her play “Teen Dad” in bad theater.

“The big thing of that play was that the daughter was a Democrat, and I thought, ‘man, there’s so many other problems, and families that are so complex, why don’t we see that?’ ‘Why don’t I try to put the family a little closer to me and my family and my friends, families on stage?’” she remembers.

The play, which Dawes does not identify, didn’t have a single person of color in the cast or backstage, she remembers. So Dawes created a story centered on a Black and Latino family of musicians, with a mother who loves Sonic Youth.

“The music for me is definitely like another character in the play. I’m a huge Sonic Youth fan. And I was absolutely that one Black girl at a Sonic Youth show,” Dawes remembers. She even included a Spotify playlist full of 1990s hits and deep cuts from the likes of PJ Harvey and Portishead alongside Nirvana and Alicia Keys. A lot of the music, though, is lost on the cast.

“It’s funny to work with a production where all of these actors, including my director, are not the same age as me. They’re much younger, so they don’t know the glory of ’90s alternative and R&B,” she laughs, adding, “it’s crazy to me to have to explain to someone who Lauryn Hill is!”

Dawes is an MFA graduate of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Her play, “This B*tch: Esta Sangre Quiero” was the University Theatre’s season opener last year. She has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and training in sketch and improv at the Second City Training Center in Chicago. The Kim Gordon super fan also coached bands at Girls Rock! summer camps in Austin, Oklahoma City and Chicago.

Dawes first workshopped “Teen Dad” in 2014 in her native Austin, and later brought it to the Arkansas New Play Festival at TheatreSquared in 2019 where a line about Wyclef Jean hooked Trey Smith during a reading.

“I cackled! I scream-laughed! I thought that was the funniest thing. And there are so many jokes like that, so many references in this play,” explains Smith who both directs and acts in the Arts One Presents community theater production opening Nov. 2.

To help his younger castmates understand the era, Smith found ways to introduce the 1990s, including movie nights featuring both versions of “Freaky Friday,” “The Parent Trap” and “Sister Act” to give the younger ones “a strong understanding of Lauryn Hill and the Fugees.”

Smith is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre. Some of his previous credits include directing “The Dream of the Burning Boy,” performing as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “The Mountaintop,” Josh in “American Idiot,” and Tristan in “This B*tch.”

“We’re a Gen Z cast, and I’m a millennial director,” Smith says. “Adrienne and I have this running joke that this play is kind of the way that we’re memorializing Sonic Youth. We’ve done our due diligence of passing on the Sonic Youth torch to the future generations.”

On a more serious note, Dawes saw the play as a way to subvert a traditional “kitchen sink style” or what she calls “white people by the water” play into a story that resonates with her community while not exploiting that community’s stories for entertainment.

“There’s often such a hunger for white audiences to see Black and brown pain on stage, to see that trauma [and] exploit that trauma for entertainment purposes,” she says. “I’m in a weird position where I want to be able to talk about this stuff because there are those experiences and that is real and that is something very close to my experience.”

She specifies that “we don’t actually see that violence on a Black or brown body on stage.” Instead, the audience will “feel the ripple effect” of violence. “We can’t pretend that violence doesn’t exist in our world, and we’re in an increasingly violent and inhumane world.”

She hopes that people walk away seeing one family’s way of moving through that trauma and uses humor to help the medicine go down.

“All of the adults in this family have experienced a lot of trauma in their childhood. That was something that I related to in my personal life. They’re trying to move through trauma. They’re trying to get towards recovery and healing and connection,” she explains.

“It’s not a perfect tidy answer to those problems or how to deal with them. But you see different ways that these adults, in their romantic relationships and in their professional relationships, have tried to make peace or to work through that trauma.”

“[“Teen Dad’] is witty, and it is cutting, and it is intimate, and it is heartfelt, and it is personal to a specific experience. It does all of those things without exploiting” the characters’ trauma,” Smith explains. “It deals with police brutality. It deals with family dysfunction, it deals with generational trauma, and all of these things are very real to the BIPOC experience. It takes a lot of courage to be able to bring this play and these truths onto the stage. And so one of the big things that I have tried my best to do is to facilitate a room where people feel comfortable to explore these things.

“I think when you create a space that encourages trust, and that encourages safety, then that’s a space in which the truth can be told,” Smith concludes. “And so then that is kind of the big thing that we have worked on as a cast, I think very successfully.”

Smith adds: “When talking about a BIPOC play and the importance of representation, you can’t mention representation and then not talk about access.” To create more opportunities for people to see the play, he says that Arts One Presents is offering two “pay as you can” performances on Nov. 4.

“It’s a way that we were able to remove some of the barriers to access for BIPOC people who stand to be greatly impacted by this beautiful work of theater.”

Following the Nov. 4 performances there will also be a talk back for the community with the cast to talk about the issues in the play (and hopefully the music too!). Find out more about this Arts One Presents community production at



‘Teen Dad’

WHAT — Arts One Presents stages a community theater production of “Teen Dad” by playwright Adreinne Dawes in which emo-teenager Abby surprises her estranged parents with a reunion. Starring Amaya Allen as Abby, Kate Capdeville as Tanya, Trey Smith as John, Erick Soto as Tom and Amy Prejoles as Alisha. Assistant director is Collin Mills.

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2-3; 2 & 7 p.m. Nov. 4; and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5; talk backs will follow the Saturday performances

WHERE — Clapp Auditorium at Mount Sequoyah, 150 N. Skyline Drive in Fayetteville

COST — $25 general admission; $10 students


BONUS — Pay what you can for the Nov. 4 performances at

Categories: Theater