The Waco Civic Theatre’s latest production, “Jackie and Me,” tells the story of a boy who travels through time to the racially-divided 1940s America to meet one of his favorite baseball players, Jackie Robinson. The opening show is on Thursday, and performances will continue every night until Sunday.
Anthony Betters, who graduated from Baylor in 2016, plays Jackie Robinson, the nation’s first African-American major league baseball player. Betters said studying his lines as he prepares for opening night makes him feel like he’s back in school.
Betters, who played football for Baylor when he was a student, said sports have been a big part of his life from a young age. He said he’s grateful for the opportunity to portray someone who was a hero of his as a child.
“He has such an iconic role in African-American society,” Betters said. “I get to play someone who was so honored back then, and now I get to honor him.”
Betters currently works as a football and basketball coach at the Methodist Children’s Home, a nonprofit organization that provides support and foster care for children ages 12 to 18.
Although he’s had a lot of experience with baseball, “Jackie and Me” will be Betters’ first theatrical performance.
“I have zero [background in acting],” Betters said, “unless you want to talk about first grade when I played a turkey.”
Betters said he first learned about auditions for the show from an old friend he used to play baseball with who is also a cast member.
“I told him, ‘I don’t act, but I guess I’ll give it a try,’” Betters said. “I ran through a few lines with Tredessa, and here I am.”
Tredessa Thomas, director of “Jackie and Me,” said she has been directing the children’s theater productions at the Waco Civic Theatre for about three years. Like many of the other volunteers at the theater, she has served in a number of different roles and performed in several productions herself.
According to Thomas, “Jackie and Me” is based on a book from Dan Gutman’s series “Baseball Card Adventures,” which is geared toward middle school-aged children.
Although the show is based on a children’s book, “Jackie and Me” is rated PG for the presence of racial slurs and one intense scene. Thomas said the show’s family-friendly content would still be enjoyable for older audiences.
“I think it’s as entertaining to an adult crowd as it is to a younger crowd,” Thomas said. “It’s not something you would find on Nick Jr. It’s got a wider reach.”
Thomas said “Jackie and Me” has presented her with a new set of challenges because the cast has a very broad age range. The oldest member of the cast is 75, while the youngest, Zach Williams, is in fifth grade.
Williams plays Joe Stoshack, the main character of the “Baseball Card Adventures” series. He uses his special ability to time travel by touching baseball cards to help him with a school assignment on influential African-Americans.
No stranger to the stage, Williams said he’s been in 13 plays before, most of them through the Waco Civic Theatre.
Williams said audiences of all ages can learn from “Jackie and Me” about the importance of not using violence to solve problems.
“It’s very hard for [Joe] to control his temper,” Williams said, “but he learns from Jackie Robinson in the end how to control it.”
While the main lesson for Williams is about managing emotions, Betters said he wanted the audience to leave with a sense of the progress the United States has made in racial inclusivity.
“It’ll help you realize, whether you’re of color or if you’re Caucasian,” Betters said, “how much the world has evolved and changed into what it is now.”