published Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

12-year-old brain surgery survivor pens play on Rosa Parks

Twelve-year-old playwright Christopher Kyles, seated right, gives stage direction to fellow Barger Academy Players Jaylan Pinkerton, Joya Greer, Micaiah Williams, Kali Parker and Gabe Collins, from left. They will present Christopher’s play, “The Rosa Parks Story” in two performances this weekend.
Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Twelve-year-old playwright Christopher Kyles, seated right, gives stage direction to fellow Barger Academy Players Jaylan Pinkerton, Joya Greer, Micaiah Williams, Kali Parker and Gabe Collins, from left. They will present Christopher’s play, “The Rosa Parks Story” in two performances this weekend. Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press

ABOUT HIM

Name: Christopher Kyles.

Age: 12.

School: Fifth-grader at Barger Academy of Fine Arts.

Favorite subject: Social studies.

Least favorite subject: Math.

Heroes: His family, God, Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks.

Favorite actors: Johnny Depp and Harrison Ford.

Dream job: Playwright/illustrator or funeral director.


CLAIM TO FAME

While recovering from two rounds of brain surgery last November, Christopher Kyles, 12, wrote a play about Rosa Parks, which will be performed this month by his school’s drama club.


SEE IT

Christopher Kyles’ play, “The Rosa Parks Story,” will be performed by the Barger Academy Players at Barger Academy, 4808 Brainerd Road, at 7 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

In 1955, Rosa Parks’ act of civil disobedience in refusing to move to the back of a Montgomery, Ala., bus inspired an entire generation to take up the cause of civil rights. Almost 60 years later, her defiance encouraged 12-year-old Christopher Kyles to take up a pen.

In November, while sitting in a bed at Erlanger hospital recovering from brain surgery, Christopher put the finishing touches on “The Rosa Parks Story,” a play inspired by a made-for-TV movie by the same name. The play will be performed Friday and Saturday by the Barger Players, the drama club at Barger Academy of Fine Arts, where Christopher is in the fifth grade.

“At first, I thought she [Parks] was a little person who got on the bus and said, ‘I don’t want to get off,’ ” Christopher said. “Then I started learning more about her. I realized she was more than that; she was a hero.

“Heroes to other people are Superman and stuff, but heroes to me are amazing political figures like John F. Kennedy. So I decided to write about one of my heroes.”

The play covers the entire scope of Parks’ life, from her birth in 1913 to her death in 2005. It takes place in Alabama, Detroit and Washington D.C., and includes appearances by a number of political and civil-rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. and former president Bill Clinton.

Christopher began writing the script in early 2010. Toward the end of the school year, he brought an early, four-page draft, to his drama-club instructor, Amy Burton, who suggested using it as a future production.

During the summer, he continued his research, adding numerous scenes and characters until he had a near-final, 21-page version when he returned in the fall. Throughout the school year, Burton met with Christopher for several weekend sessions, during which they edited his notes into a workable script.

Christopher finished his last revision — a scene in which Parks attempts to register to vote — while recovering from his surgery in November.

The operation was to relieve a life-threatening buildup of fluid around Christopher’s brain, a byproduct of Sturge-Weber syndrome, a rare neurological disorder he has had since birth.

The surgery was his third. When he was less than a year old, Christopher’s family traveled to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson implanted a shunt to relieve pressure on the left side of Christopher’s brain. A similar procedure at age 3 installed a second shunt on the right side.

Despite the challenges Christopher faces because of his medical condition, Burton said he has remained consistently upbeat and positive.

“His mother told me that he was so excited to join because it was the first team he’d ever been able to be on,” she said.

Burton said Christopher’s play was among the longest she has seen produced by a student and was “surprisingly easy to understand and clear.” Throughout their collaboration, Burton said she strove to treat Christopher as she would any young playwright.

The cast, which consists entirely of Barber Academy students, began rehearsing in April. From the beginning, Christopher has exhibited great enthusiasm for the dramatic process, almost to a fault, Burton said.

“Bless his heart, he’s so dedicated,” she said. “He had had the surgery, and he called to say, ‘Ms. Burton, I won’t be at rehearsal today because I’m recovering from brain surgery.’ I never expected him to call ... but he did.”

When he takes the stage Friday, Christopher will portray several roles, including bit parts as a minister and a barber, as well as more significant roles as civil-rights leader and organizer Edgar Nixon.

This won’t be his first depiction of a historical figure. During other plays he has performed at church and school, he has portrayed Jackie Robinson, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr., among others.

Christopher said he hopes “The Rosa Parks Story” opens people’s eyes and shows them that historical events can continue to impart valuable lessons.

“When they leave ... I want them to know this has happened, and we don’t have to let it happen again,” he said. “That’s history, but that’s in the past, and we should forgive and forget.”

TALENT SHOW

Do you know a child age 13 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in “Talent Show,” which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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