ArtYard and Camden Repertory Theater are joining forces to present two performances of Desi Shelton’s ‘urgent, searing and wildly inventive’ new play Child Support at 7 PM Sat., Dec. 9 and 3 PM on Sun, Dec. 10. Using humor and hypertheatricality, Child Support explores single parenthood and financial responsibility from the points of view of everyone impacted by a broken system.
Desi is a playwright, actor, and founder of Camden Repertory Theater, a theater company dedicated to shaping new narratives of Black women’s lives and providing local artists and Camden youth a place to be heard and a forum to create and produce new work. She is in residence at ArtYard in the lead-up to the performances, which will be followed by a talkback with ArtYard Theatre Curator Deontè Griffin-Quick.
“Everything I do is about expanding our vision of what theatre is and stopping the cycle of poverty amongst Black women in Camden and in communities that look like Camden,” Desi said. “I am excited to learn through this residency how this play translates in Frenchtown. I am eager to hear the audience’s feedback about what resonates.”
Child Support opened on Oct. 13 and ran through Oct. 28 at Camden Repertory Theater, where the stage is in the living room of an intimate townhouse. The sidewalks leading to the theater on its residential block were decked out as a life-size Monopoly board, with golden game pieces – a stroller, car, and top hat – and Chance cards. A DJ played music outside the theater entrance as Camden Rep served up fried chicken and handed out scratch-off lottery tickets with a QR-code program.
Child Support lays out the unspoken rules of a game in which everyone loses. The audience will find themselves immersed in the world of a single Black mother and her 17-year old daughter, uneasy contestants on the “Child Support Game Show.”
Desi, who plays single-mom Ajani, is joined by actors Shaleeah Navarro on Saturday and Chynah Michele on Sunday as daughter Muff. Child Support is directed by Barrymore Award-winning Ozzie Jones. It is accompanied by music composed by Jamal P. Dickerson and performed by a live band of students from Camden Rep’s PACE program under the guidance of musical director JoJo Streater.
“Jones aptly captures the essence of this play, and its uniqueness lies in its seamless fusion of subject matter, style, emotional depth and environment, engaging the audience in a profoundly immersive experience,” Desi said in an interview with NJ Urban News. “Unlike any other, “Child Support” transcends traditional boundaries, making it a deeply adventurous journey for both the cast and the spectators. The play not only touches hearts but also challenges perspectives, creating a lasting impact on those who witness its powerful narrative.”
Desi is Artyard’s second playwright in residence since launching a theatre program with Deontè as its guest curator. The first, Tylie Shider, in 2022, returned this year as the inaugural ArtYard Playwright Fellow.
The talent and excellence of Camden Rep is no secret in New Jersey’s arts community but the time is ripe to make it known elsewhere, Deontè said.
“The partnership between ArtYard and Camden Rep is something I wish we saw more of in the arts,” he said.
Kearney and other ArtYard staff attended an early staged reading of the play in Camden last summer.
“The story behind Child Support is one that may be specific to Camden but is universal,” said Jill Kearney, ArtYard Founder and Executive Director. “Desi is such a talented writer. There is so much nuance, so much humor, contradiction, and humanity in it.”
Lead support for Child Support was provided by the William Penn Foundation.