Incorporating Anti-Racist Work into TVY: Spellbound Theatre devises Lullaby Land

Producer Jody Doo dives deep into what it means for Spellbound Theatre to actively incorporate anti-racist work into TVY and how as theatermakers, we can start children on a journey to embrace and celebrate diversity through multilingual productions.

Remember that tumultuous period in Summer 2020? The building unrest with George Floyd’s unjust death, the unknowns of the pandemic, the uprising of We See You W.A.T. (White American Theater)… these were just the tip of the iceberg.

In response to this difficult time, Spellbound Theatre then Artistic Director Lauren Jost put together an Anti-Racist Committee. This committee was the pioneer think-tank to deepen Spellbound’s Anti-Racist work and connect it to the company’s productions for the very young. Comprising ensemble members of Black, Latina, Asian descent, immigrant-identifying and parents – the committee represented voices from the communities that needed to be heard.

The Anti-Racist Committee’s first meeting was on September 9, 2020. The meeting opened with this prompt:

How can we develop Spellbound’s anti-racist work, both internally and with our audiences? This committee will work in partnership with the strategic planning committee to ensure that our long-term planning and funding will be in line with our anti-racist goals. 


Fast forward – a month and 3 meetings later – the committee decided that with the restrictions of the pandemic, and combining the Spellbound at Home programming goal, we would inspire play at home. This is to be achieved through a Lullaby series at home – partly on screen, partly sensory. The series is to tap into Spellbound’s diverse ensemble and present multi-lingual lullabies.

Fast forward – 9 months later, June 16, 2021 – Spellbound put together a team of 6 ensemble members, a director, a sound designer, a video editor and a producer to create 6 digital episodes with the series being titled Lullaby Land. The concept is simple – each episode is in a different language, a lullaby that soothes the performer to sleep.

As the Producer for this series, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that we easily found 6 ensemble members who knew 6 different languages – English, Spanish, Swedish, Haitian-Creole, Mandarin and Tagalog. The language diversity of our company was one that we hadn’t yet tapped into. This was an exciting new discovery for Spellbound and definitely a great opportunity to showcase the rich cultural and linguistic diversity of our ensemble, which we had very intentionally built.

Creating devised work over Zoom was definitely interesting, the least to say. Under the brilliant direction of Khalia Davis – Spellbound’s ensemble member and then Artistic Director of Bay Area Children’s Theatre – digital magic was most definitely within reach. Khalia noticed a theme in everyone’s sharing. There always seems to be an element that keeps everyone from falling asleep. So all the 6 devisors dug deep and pondered on what element bothers them the most and prevents them from attaining that sweet sweet rest.

After 7 hours of Zoom devising, the episodes were recorded, edited and rolled out over the rest of the Summer. It was a joyous celebration of cultures, songs, diversity and much-needed sleep.

Fast forward – 3 months later, September 10, 2021 – all 6 episodes of Lullaby Land were released!

Watch them here.

The digital episodes were very much welcomed during the deep pandemic times. The series was a fresh breath of air for parents who have been playing popular educational videos on loop and listening to a particular shark song on repeat.

Each episode followed a performer who couldn’t fall asleep. Anxiety, fear, stress, heat were all factors keeping our performers awake! Ultimately, each individual found refuge through a lullaby in their mother tongue. That familiar comfort lulled everyone into deep sleep.

Fast forward – Spring 2023 – Spellbound Theatre received grants from the CreateNYC Language Access Fund of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs to further develop Lullaby Land in FY23. The goal is to have 3 devising phases which will ultimately transform the 6 episode digital series into a full staged production in 2025.

Fast forward – Summer 2023 – Phase 1 of in-person devising began! For this phase, Ana Cantorán Viramontes – a longtime member of Spellbound’s ensemble – was hired as the director. Ana is an immigrant from Mexico, fluent in Spanish and brings with her years of TYA experience, devising as well as directing. To kick off Phase 1 of in-person devising, we put together a team of 8 devisors, explored 10 languages and 4 instruments.

If excitement was visible, you could see it buzzing in the rehearsal room on Day 1. The beauty of picking up a project again, not only in-person, but with the goal of taking a digital series and exploring it on its feet. Spanish was spoken, Swedish was heard, Tagalog was music to everyone’s ears…

Of course, every theater process has to involve drama. Ours came in the form of smog rolling in from the Canadian wildfires. We thought gone were the days of Zoom rehearsals! Life has its way of keeping our lofty goals grounded. Day 2 and 3 of devising rehearsals took place over good’ol Zoom. We tapped in 2 more devisors and 2 more instruments. We were stepping into uncharted territory, melding the sounds of guitar and harp along with physical movements, over Zoom. But it was like riding a bike. The pandemic taught us how to pivot and we remembered those skills well.

Week 2 of devising went much more smoothly, which just meant it went ahead as planned. A different kind of buzzing excitement could be felt in the rehearsal room. We tapped in 2 more instruments – the piano and cello. We also tapped in new devisors who brought new languages into the room – Mandarin and Cantonese.

Susanna Brock, one of the devisors shared, “Throughout the devising process we explored different aspects of the Lullaby theme through singing, soundscapes, puppetry, and movement sequences. A broader theme of soothing and finding comfort emerged, not just to help us go to sleep but when we experience fear or unrest – something that has been very present in many of our lives the past 3 years.”

Even though there was the known pressure that the week will end with a workshop presentation, there was levity in the atmosphere. Under the direction of Ana, there was generative creativity in the room. Everyone’s ideas were welcome – some implemented on the spot, some ‘parked’ on a huge roll of paper, taped to the wall.

The day of the workshop presentation crept up on everyone. The 25 seating capacity was promptly filled. Parents were sincerely interested in this new piece of work that Spellbound is devising – our first new work since the pandemic! We welcomed a group of children ranging from 2 to 6 years old.

Watch the Lullaby Land magic that went down.

3 year old Penny said her favorite part was dancing in a circle with everyone and spinning around. Her twin brother Elliot loved it when the lights went down and everyone went to sleep together. Mother of the twins, Jolene, chimed in that at their age, anything where they can play make believe a little bit is a big hit. Jolene would love it if the twins can learn repeatable words in different languages so they can continue the experience at home.

Parents Ashley and Robert brought their almost 2 year old to the workshop presentation. “There’s something very special and unique about the way in which the show is so intentionally and purposefully multilingual. Very excited for the future of this piece!”, Ashley shared. They loved the movement section and that families got to share the lullabies they sing at home.

Mandy biked in from deep Brooklyn to Midtown Manhattan with her 5 year old son Daniel for the workshop presentation! They would love to see the dream scenes played out more and love how the story was being told without any dialogue. Mandy said, “When I think of the title Lullaby Land, I’m thinking of a world uncharted, without limits, and a place where inhibitions are taken away.”

One surprising effect that the team didn’t anticipate – two parents expressed that they haven’t shared their native language with their children before and this workshop presentation got them wondering why and why not. Both expressed that they are now keen on speaking their native language to their children and are looking forward to continuing this linguistic heritage in their families.

To tie everything up in a spellbinding bow, 6 year old Liane wanted more monsters!

It was very helpful for the creative team to hear all this feedback. It is our goal to incorporate them in devising Phase 2, which is set to take place in Fall 2023.

So back to where it all began – the prompt that the Anti-Racist committee first tried to tackle:

How can we develop Spellbound’s anti-racist work, both internally and with our audiences? This committee will work in partnership with the strategic planning committee to ensure that our long-term planning and funding will be in line with our anti-racist goals. 


Lullaby Land is Spellbound’s current active attempt to develop anti-racist work. This show will be intentionally multi-lingual, all while embracing and celebrating diversity.

Should you be interested to join us on this Lullaby Land journey, do follow Spellbound’s Instagram page. We can’t wait to see what unfolds in this world!

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