When artists Kay Lawal-Muhammad, Nata’aska Hasan Humminbird, and Rashida Forman-Bey came together as WombWork Productions in 1997, they envisioned a space that could support local children through performing arts. The three mothers saw a need for arts education in the community and understood that it could be an outlet for turning negative experiences into something positive and productive.
Since then, the theater company has influenced two decades of children, young adults, and audience members of all ages.
Lawal-Muhammad and Forman-Bey, lovingly referred to as Mama Kay and Mama Rashida, still act as artistic and program director of WombWork. (Hasan Humminbird still participates as an artistic/spiritual advisor and occasional performer.) Assisted by a board of directors and rotating featured artists, the pair and their three ensembles have put on more than 550 productions that cover topics such as violence, gang membership, and suicide.
“It’s always a healing process,” says Mama Kay. “Much of the inspiration for the pieces that we do comes from lived experiences that performers have had or experiences of people that they know quite intimately.”
The program’s ensembles are divided by age, and, as WombWork strives to be a place of continuous growth, the older members mentor those in the groups below them. Along with training from The Virtues Project, a character-building curriculum that helps students develop core values and productive communication skills, ensemble members also receive coaching from master drummers, dancers, and directors during their production season.
WombWork has brought its socially conscious work into area public schools, community centers, museums, and even a prison, and it has plans to expand its mission into other parts of Baltimore and the world through missions in New York, Kenya, and Tanzania. Board President David Fakunle is excited to start working with independent schools around the city in the coming year.
“I’ve always been appreciative of how we’re dedicated to children of color in public schools, but I’ve also encouraged us to look at children of color at predominantly white institutions because that’s a whole other battle that they face,” says Fakunle. “The same encouragement, empowerment, and love that our kids in public schools need, kids in those spaces need as well.”
Both in schools and across the wider community, WombWork’s goal is to use the arts to teach and improve the lives of ensemble members and those for whom they perform.
“WombWork is truly unique,” says Fakunle. “It has set a model for how to present relevant topics of our society in an honest way, but also in an empowering way.”