101 Stories: Douglas Lyons, Melvin Tunstall, and Greg Borowsky

By The Children's Theatre

Celebrate TCT’s 101st season as it comes to a close as we applaud and appreciate those who contributed to the organization’s magic throughout our century-long journey.  During 10 weeks of recognition, we honor individuals who have been instrumental in the success of TCT, and who have not only helped TCT grow in mission, but also thrive, thanks to their passion.  It is these people and their moments in our history that shaped TCT to become what it is today. We encourage you to consider giving a gift in their honor to ensure the sustainability of TCT’s mission for the next 100+ years. 

From left to right: Kim Kern, Greg Borowsky, Douglas Lyons, Melvin Tunstall III, and Roderick Justice after the premiere of TCT’s POLKADOTS THE COOL KIDS MUSICAL

In the winter of 2018, TCT invited schools and families to be a part of an important regional premiere on the Ralph and Patricia Corbett Showtime Stage:  POLKADOTS: THE COOL KIDS MUSICAL. With 49 up-close-and personal performances, the show was led by an outstanding cast and was written by a powerhouse author group. Based on an original concept by Douglas Lyons, the book was written by Melvin Tunstall III. The co-composer and lyricist was Douglas Lyons, and co-composer was Greg Borowsky. The production was directed by Nate Bertone. 

POLKADOTS: THE COOL KIDS MUSICAL follows 8-year-old Lily Polkadot who just moved to the “Squares Only” small town of Rockaway. As the first Polkadot in an all Square school, Lily faces an almost impossible task of gaining acceptance from her peers. From daily bullying, to segregated drinking fountains, Lily’s quest seems hopeless until she meets Sky, a shy Square boy whose curiosity for her unique polkadot skin blooms into an unexpected pal-ship. 

Inspired by Civil Rights Pioneers Ruby Bridges and The Little Rock Nine, POLKADOTS serves as a colorful history lesson for the world, reminding us that our differences make us awesome, not outcasts. 

On March 24, 2018, TCT was proud to host Ms. Carlotta Walls LaNier for a very special live Q&A and talkback after the show. In 1957, at age 14, Ms. Walls LaNier was the youngest Little Rock Nine member to integrate Central High School.  This act of courage and defiance became the catalyst for change in the American educational system.  By ushering in a new order, she and her fellow warriors became ‘foot soldiers’ for freedom.

Here is an excerpt from a recent TCT interview with authors Douglas Lyons, Melvin Tunstall, and Greg Borowsky:

DOUGLAS:  I think children’s theatre and the work done at TCT is purposeful, but also important. You have to catch them while they are young, and Cincinnati should feel so proud and lucky to have a staple in their community that is sort of like the Disney World of children’s theatres.

GREG: Exactly! It is just before seven or eight years-old when kids are at an all-time high in terms of absorption— with their brains and imagination. Speaking from the perspective of Polkadots, we are able to teach children how to deal with some heavy topics but in an imaginative environment. So, I agree. children’s theatre is so incredibly important, and TCT is insanely unique.

MELVIN: I started out in children’s theatre. But you all are very different than other children’s theatres. You all are on a totally different level.

DOUGLAS: Oh, the production value is unmatched! Until the Cincinnati production, we hadn’t seen Polkadots produced to its full potential. We hadn’t seen the show where production budget limitations didn’t affect the work. I wrote a long manifesto about how the show could look— TCT put it on the scale it was dreamed to be.  

GREG: I would also say your community engagement is also unmatched.  

MELVIN: You were able to have a member of the Little Rock Nine speak and do a talk back afterwards! 

GREG:  That kind of engagement afterwards is so special. The show is the show, but the talkback is where you really drove it home and TCT absolutely smashed it by bringing (Carlotta Walls Lanier) in.   

MELVIN: Bringing in a historical figure for people to meet and to actually speak with— I mean there is nothing greater than that. Our show about Ruby Bridges and the Little Rock Nine is one thing, but to give your audience the opportunity to actually speak face to face?  It makes you insanely special.  

MELVIN: We always wanted to write a good piece of theatre, but with purpose. I think we shared the same mentality with TCT.  

DOUGLAS: Right. We all wanted to create good important theatre. 

MELVIN: We see companies do Polkadots all the time and they are cute, fun, and it’s colorful. It is what it is. But this is a show with a real message and some seriously heavy issues. So, when you find a company like TCT that is bold enough to do the show and to invest in the quality, it’s refreshing. A lot of people you know are afraid to do this show. So, it’s a testament to the company that you had the courage to present a piece like this, in such a bold and professional way. And unapologetically.

DOUGLAS: Yes, definitely add “BOLD” to the list of words! 

Would you honor Douglas Lyons, Melvin Tunstall, and Greg Borowsky with a gift to recognize the impact made on TCT?