When a friend told recent UALR graduate, Satia Spencer, that she should audition for a part in the local production of the musical, āCaroline, or Change,ā she didnāt anticipate having so much in common with a character from the 1960s.
āHer feelings about certain things mirrored my own in some ways. I thought, āWow, this is so me because the similarities were too creepy,āā said Spencer.
The main character of the musical is Caroline Thibodeaux. It is set in the early 1960s in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Caroline is the maid of a caucasian family and mother of four children, who finds herself questioning social norms and her own status.
According to Spencer, even though Caroline is the lead character, her point of view is not the only one that is highlighted in the play, and audiences will enjoy how the characters interact with one another.
āEven the lowest person is esteemed in someoneās eyes. The youngest character in the play is 8 years old, and he equates Caroline with the president of the United States. She is just that strong and important to him.ā
Spencer, who was a non-traditional student and a single mother of a 14-year-old son when she graduated in May, shared her thoughts about similarities between herself and Caroline.
āI have cleaned houses. I was a victim of domestic violence. I have a child that I have to set an example for… I just saw so much of myself in this character,ā Spencer said.
In the past, she found herself asking, āIs it too late for me to go to school? Is it too late to fulfill my dreams?ā
Spencer ultimately decided that it was not too late, and one of her dreams was to sing. So without having any prior formal training, she enrolled in UALRās music program where she found professors who were more than willing to help her achieve her goals.
āThey would help you shine, to bring out your fullest potential. That was so encouraging.ā
And Spencer did shine. Even though her first voice lesson wasnāt until 2008, in 2011, she won the National Association of Teachers of Singing Inc. award in the Advanced Women category.
The DeWitt, Arkansas, native has performed with the UALR Opera Theater and appeared in several productions including āLa Tragedie de Carmenā as Carmen and the Mother in āAmahl And The Night Visitorsā and has even serenaded Gov. Mike Beebe.
āOur music department is so cohesive that I would have to name the entire department to accurately thank everyone,ā she said.
Spencer described Dr. Bevan Keating, director of Conducting and Choral Studies at UALR, as a ātrue mentor.ā
She also thanked Keatingās wife, Kira, who was her first voice teacher, her most recent voice teacher Diane Kesling, Professor Edward Kraft and his wife for helping music students participate in study abroad programs, and Dr. Vicki Lind for being an advocate for music education students.
Spencer is not only a talented performer but with a bachelorās degree in Music Education, she is now a licensed educator and plans to teach like another hero of hers – her father.
Sadly, her father passed away while she and her cast members were in rehearsals for the play.
āIām a natural teacher. My father taught art at Central High School in Helena for years,ā Spencer reminisced.
āI see something that isnāt right and I want to do something that creates an impact; what better way to do that than to teach,ā she added.
More about the Play
āCaroline, or Change,ā is the winner of the Laurence Olivier Award and the Lucille Lortel Award for Best New Musical, and started running at the The Weekend Theater in early June.
Caroline is drifting through her life as a single mother of four working in a service job to a white family. A fragile, yet beautiful friendship develops between the young Gellman son, Noah (who has lost his mother), and Caroline. Noahās stepmother Rose, unable to give Caroline a raise, tells Caroline that she may keep the money Noah leaves in his pockets. Caroline balks and refuses to take money from a child, but her own children desperately need food, clothing and shoes.
Regardless of the circumstances, whether it is the death of President Kennedy, her daughterās growing activism and misunderstood dismissal of what she perceives to be Carolineās choice to remain a maid, her sonās enlistment in Vietnam, a fight with a newly college-bound friend, or a spin with the dryer, Caroline remains unflappable.
For more information, go toĀ The Weekend Theater.
To keep up with Institute programs, sign up for our E-Newsletter.
The Institute on Race and Ethnicity at UALR was founded in July 2011. With a vision to make Arkansas the best state in the country for promoting and celebrating racial and ethnic diversity, the Institute conducts research, promotes scholarship and provides programs that address racial inequities. It does so by facilitating open and honest dialogue aimed at empowering communities and informing public policy to achieve more equitable outcomes. For more information, visit ualr.edu/race-ethnicity or the Instituteās Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Arkworktogether.