When a friend told recent UALR graduate Satia Spencer that she should audition for a part in the local production of the musical, “Caroline, or Change,” she didn’t anticipate having so much in common with a character from the 1960s.
“Her feelings about certain things mirrored my own in some ways. I thought, ‘Wow, this is so me because the similarities were too creepy,’” 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.
Spencer, who was a nontraditional 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.
“I 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,” Spencer said.
In the past, she found herself asking, “Is it too late for me to go to school? Is it too late to fulfill my dreams?”
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 UALR’s music program where she found professors who were more than willing to help her achieve her goals.
“They would help you shine, to bring out your fullest potential. That was so encouraging.”
And Spencer did shine. Even though her first voice lesson wasn’t 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 “La Tragedie de Carmen” as Carmen and the Mother in “Amahl And The Night Visitors” and has even serenaded Gov. Mike Beebe.
“Our music department is so cohesive that I would have to name the entire department to accurately thank everyone,” she said.
Spencer described Dr. Bevan Keating, director of Conducting and Choral Studies at UALR, as a “true mentor.“
She also thanked Keating’s 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 bachelor’s 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.
“I’m a natural teacher. My father taught art at Central High School in Helena for years,” Spencer reminisced.
“I see something that isn’t right and I want to do something that creates an impact; what better way to do that than to teach,” she added.
More about the Play
“Caroline, or Change” 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. Noah’s 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.
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.
“Even the lowest person is esteemed in someone’s 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.”
Regardless of the circumstances, whether it is the death of President Kennedy, her daughter’s growing activism and misunderstood dismissal of what she perceives to be Caroline’s choice to remain a maid, her son’s enlistment in Vietnam, a fight with a newly college-bound friend, or a spin with the dryer, Caroline remains unflappable.
For more information, go to The Weekend Theater.