Uprooted from his family,
surrounded by the unfamiliar,
Lonnie couldn’t feel more alone.
But this year, his class is learning to write poetry.
Lonnie’s verses take him
from his foster home
to the classroom,
into the streets,
and back to a time when
his family was all together.
As Lonnie finds his voice,
you’ll discover how poetry can bring you
closer to others and yourself.
Written and adapted for the stage by Jacqueline Woodson
Directed by Talvin Wilks
About the Show
- Locomotion is performed by a small cast of adults and students, and is based on the book of the same name by Jacqueline Woodson.
- This production takes place on our Cargill Stage, which seats up to 298 people per performance.
- We know that teachers are the best judge to determine the right fit for their unique group of students. As this production closely follows the novel, we recommend Locomotion for students in Grade 4+ due to themes of loss, foster care, and childhood illness.
Language: 0 out of 5 stars
Parts of the story are told through poetry and/or rapping.
Themes and Situations: 4 out of 5 stars
Lonnie is in foster care after his parents die in an apartment fire. Lonnie describes some abuse he suffers at the hands of other foster kids in a group home. Lonnie experiences flashback memories of his childhood. Lonnie is separated from his little sister in foster care. Enrique comes to school with bruises and his classmates ask if he gets hit at home. Enrique is later diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia and is in the hospital.
Violence & Scariness: 2 out of 5 stars
Lonnie describes some abuse he suffers at the hands of other foster kids in a group home.
Sensory Advisories: 2 out of 5 stars
Flashback sequences are interspersed throughout the show. Sounds and visual effects are slightly morphed to communicate that we are no longer in reality. More information about this will be available when designs are solidified.
Potentially Anxious Moments: 3 out of 5 stars
Lonnie is in foster care after his parents die in an apartment fire. He is separated from his younger sister. Enrique comes to school with bruises and his classmates ask if he gets hit at home. Enrique is later diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia and is in the hospital.
This is a complete synopsis of the play, so it is full of spoilers.
Our play opens with Lonnie, an 11-year-old boy in foster care, remembering his mother by recalling her scent. He is carrying a duffle bag and as he remembers, we hear his mother humming a lullaby. Miss Edna enters and gives Lonnie a run-down of the rules in her home. We learn that she has a son who has grown up and no longer lives at home. Lonnie puts in his headphones and pulls down his hat, conveying to the audience that he is not in a good mood. Miss Edna shows Lonnie the room where he will sleep and another room that he is not allowed into. She asks if Lonnie is hungry and begins to heat up leftovers while Lonnie unpacks in his room.
Lonnie settles on his bed when a firetruck drives past the house and startles Lonnie. He calms himself down and quietly climbs out of his bedroom window onto the roof of the house. He explains that he counts the stars and thinks about Mom and Dad, looking down on him.
Suddenly, we hear a school bell and are transported to school where Lonnie and his best friend, Enrique, talk about their latest crushes. Enrique pokes fun at Lonnie’s basketball skills and Lonnie pokes back. Their teacher, Ms. Marcus, interrupts the argument and goes over their assigned homework while Lonnie daydreams about his dad. We see a flashback memory of Dad reminding Lonnie to hold his little sister, Lili’s, hand as they cross the street. Lonnie is embarrassed by his father’s fussing, but Dad assures him that he loves him and doesn’t want anything to happen to them. Dad reminds them to be home by six o’clock when the babysitter, Sarah, will be there, which prompts some whining from Lonnie who believes he is too old for a babysitter. He begrudgingly takes Lili’s hand, which causes him to recoil in disgust due to its stickiness. She decided to sneak a half-licked lollipop into her pocket. She saved the tootsie roll center for Lonnie as a gift which he eats while trying to hide his disgust.
Once they are out of adult earshot, Lili asks about Santa Claus. Lonnie assures her that he is real and that people who don’t believe anymore have broken minds. Lili exclaims that no one is going to break her mind and professes her love for her brother.
The flashback distorts slightly into a nightmare as Lili’s voice becomes sinister and Lonnie is jolted back to the present.
It’s a new day of school and Ms. Marcus is checking everyone’s journal. Enrique hasn’t completed his assignment again. Lonnie pokes fun at Enrique for failing but Enrique isn’t in the mood to joke around. He asks Ms. Marcus if he can make up the assignment because he didn’t feel well the night before but the teacher ignores his request. Lonnie reads his journal entry aloud, which details how he always has to be quiet at Miss Edna’s house, but being quiet is hard for an 11-year-old. He hopes that being quiet will be easier when he turns 12.
Back at Miss Edna’s, Lonnie once again climbs onto the roof. He pulls out his school notebook to write. Miss Edna is inside sweeping and worrying about her son, who is away at war. Lonnie tentatively asks if she is okay but she doesn’t hear him. He wishes on his stars to not let Miss Edna’s mind go away because he is getting used to living with her and doesn’t want to be taken away. He explains that they don’t always get along but he likes living with Miss Edna.
Miss Edna notices him on the roof and calls him back into the house. She shows him a letter that her son wrote, saying that he is excited to meet Lonnie and that war is safe so far. They have a moment of celebration together before Miss Edna notices that Lonnie didn’t make his bed that morning and shoos him away to finish the chore.
Lonnie goes back to his notebook and recites the poem he wrote about living in a world where he doesn’t have to worry about where he will live next. He dreams of visiting far-away places, like Australia, Spain, and Tahiti, but always having a place to call home. He begins to daydream again but this time about his mother right after Lili was born. Lonnie rocks baby Lili in a rocking chair while Mama fusses about the new baby. Lonnie asks about when he was a baby and Mama assures him that he will always be her baby. Lili falls asleep in Lonnie’s arms as he is transported to a new memory after his parents died. A social worker is asking him about the living conditions at his group home. He describes the “monsters” that haunt him in his group home as older boys who steal his things and beat him. The social worker explains that Lili and Lonnie were placed in the group home in order for them to stay together, but Lonnie has requested that Lili be moved to a home instead where she won’t have to be haunted by the monsters at the group home. Lonnie hopes to be able to go with her, but the foster home is only able to take Lili, as they don’t accept boys. Lonnie decides to stay at the group home so that his little sister can go to a real home, even if it means they will be separated. Lonnie dreams of a home that will accept both him and his sister so they can stay together but, in the meantime, the social worker promises to keep the two kids in contact via phone, letters, and occasional visitations.
The flashback fades back to the present where Enrique is asking Lonnie why he never talks about his mother. Lonnie deflects the question by asking why Enrique comes to school with bruises all over him. This clearly upsets Enrique who pulls his sleeves down defensively.
Ms. Marcus walks through the isles of the class checking homework and again, Enrique has not completed it. He gives a slew of excuses but none of them fly. Lonnie is hesitant to start writing as he doesn’t feel inspired, but starts writing about Enrique and how no one knows that he can sing. Lonnie becomes self-conscious that Enrique may not want everyone to know that he can sing so he balls up the paper in frustration. Ms. Marcus comforts Lonnie in his frustration that his poetry isn’t coming out the same way as the poetry he reads in class. Ms. Marcus asks the class to define poetry. Enrique volunteers his opinion that poetry is irrelevant to him. Lonnie points out that the poem they were just reading is similar to the things he has described from Puerto Rico. Enrique challenges that these things were in Puerto Rico, but are not in New York. Ms. Marcus explains that they do not need to write about the same things as Robert Frost, because they need to write about their life and what is relevant to them. Enrique begins to rap and Ms. Marcus praises his poetry.
Back in a flashback, Lonnie is trying to convince Lili to tell their parents that she doesn’t want to go to the babysitter’s house. He thinks that, because Lili is the youngest, the parents may listen to her. She insists that she wants to go to Sarah’s house because they get to go to the zoo, and she is concerned about lying to her parents. Lonnie insists that the story is not a lie; it is merely fiction. She is not convinced and skips off.
The next day at school, Ms. Marcus is checking journals again. Enrique finally wrote something but a very short something. Ms. Marcus reminds him that all he needs to do is write down his rap words.
At home, Miss Edna is anxious for her son to call. She bemoans that her son grew up too fast. Lonnie comments that growing up doesn’t seem to be going fast for him which causes Miss Edna to laugh. Her laughter fades into a flashback where Lonnie’s father is laughing and commenting on how funny Lonnie is. They begin joking with each other and Lonnie finds an opening to ask if they can skip going to the babysitter’s house that night. Father insists that Lonnie loves Sarah and has been in love with her since he was in diapers. Lonnie insists that he just wants to sleep in his own bed. Dad is concerned that Lonnie is mad at Sarah because she has a new boyfriend and he is jealous, but Lonnie insists that isn’t the reason. Dad promises that the family can go to Coney Island after picking them up. Lonnie is still upset as a phone ringing breaks him out of his flashback.
Miss Edna picks up the phone and talks with Lili’s foster mom. We learn that Lili’s foster mom has canceled their meeting and this has been a trend. Lonnie becomes furious and insists that he is being kept away from his sister. Miss Edna promises that next weekend he will see Lili and that she will call later that evening. Lonnie is clearly crestfallen. Miss Edna encourages him to find something to be happy about which annoys Lonnie because he doesn’t feel like he has anything to be happy about. Miss Edna suggests being happy that her son, Jenkins, will be home soon but Lonnie asserts that that is Miss Edna’s happy thing, not his. Miss Edna promises to buy him some Twinkies from the store and turns on some music.
The music fades into another flashback. Lonnie timidly approaches his mother to ask again about not going to Sarah’s house for the night. Mama has no patience for the conversation and changes the topic. She reminisces about how small Lonnie was when he was born. She remembers praying over his body to help his lungs develop as he was a premature baby. She begins to sing and dance the Locomotion as this is where Lonnie got his name: Lonnie Collins Motion.
Back at school, Enrique greets Lonnie and the two begin to rap. Their rap transitions into school, where Ms. Marcus reminds them about their poetry homework.
Again, we are transported to a flashback. Dad is waking Lonnie up for an early morning walk. Lonnie is tired and resistant but Dad insists. The pair walk to catch the sunrise over Brooklyn. Dad comments that Lonnie reminds him of his grandfather on his mother’s side of the family. Lonnie thinks differently than everyone else and that makes him special. Lonnie asks if he is good different or bad different but Dad assures him that all different is good. Dad encourages Lonnie to leave something behind so that people will always remember him while they marvel at the beautiful trees that have been planted for generations.
The next weekend, we are at Lili’s foster home. Lili is rubbing her feet on the carpet to cause friction and shock her brother. She suddenly notices that Lonnie got his ear pierced and he quickly shushes her to keep it a secret. Lonnie thinks that if her foster mother knew, she would keep Lili from him even more. Lili announces that she is allowed to get her ears pierced when she is 10 years old and is already brainstorming what kind of earrings she will get. Lonnie comments that he hopes they will be living together by the time she is 10. Lili is convinced that one –day, Lonnie will be able to live with her but Lonnie knows the truth: that Lili’s foster mom won’t take him because he is a teenage boy. Lili dotes over how much she loves living at her foster home and shares that every Saturday they make cookies from scratch. He tastes the cookies while Lili talks about school and math tests and baking. She asks if their parents were good at math like she is and asks Lonnie to read her the poem he is writing. He is hesitant but begins to read. She is ecstatic to realize it is about her and about him visiting her that very day. Lili apologizes for missing all their Saturday meetings. She explains that sometimes she just wants to be a regular kid and pretend she isn’t a foster kid. Sometimes her brother visiting reminds her of the life she had before she lived in the nice foster home. Lonnie becomes upset that she wants to forget about him and their family. They begin to say their goodbyes and look forward to spending two weeks together at sleepaway camp.
At school, Enrique is rambling about how he saw a dog getting hit by a car and asks Lonnie if he has seen anything bad like that. Lonnie has a snide remark about Enrique’s face. Enrique keeps pushing and asks about Lonnie’s parents, assuming they left. Again, Lonnie brings up the bruises, assuming his parents beat him. They both are quiet for a minute before Lonnie says that his parents are gone and he doesn’t want to talk about it. Enrique asks if they are gone or “dead-gone.” Lonnie just looks at him and doesn’t give an answer.
Ms. Marcus asks for volunteers to read their poems aloud. She is shocked when Enrique volunteers first and reads “Dream Variations,” passing it off as his own work. Everyone is impressed except for Ms. Marcus who comments that the poem is very impressive and has been impressive since 1926 when Langston Hughes first wrote it. Enrique continues and turns the poem into a rap with his own original spin. Ms. Marcus will accept this variation.
The poem leads into another flashback where Lonnie’s mom is reciting the poem while dancing around the house.
Lonnie is partially jolted out of the flashback by Ms. Marcus who calls on him to read his poem but Lonnie’s mind is still stuck in the past and is unable to respond.
Back in the flashback, Dad is encouraging Lonnie to pack his bag for the night at the babysitter’s house, as she will be there to pick them up in 10 minutes. Lonnie begins to protest but Dad won’t hear of it. It is date night for Mom and Dad.
The memory is interrupted by the sound of fire trucks. The sound morphs and we hear a pastor giving a eulogy.
Lonnie is writing in his journal about where he might live next and all the people who don’t want him. He reminisces about when there were four people in their family and they were all together.
In the present back at school, Ms. Marcus announces that Enrique won’t be finishing the school year due to illness. He was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia, which causes his blood cells to be oddly shaped, and leaves bruises all over his body. We learn that Enrique is in the hospital and, while people don’t die directly from Sickle Cell Anemia, there can be complications. Lonnie begins to dissociate and the classroom feels farther away. His poem morphs into a story about Enrique’s disease.
Lonnie goes to visit Enrique in the hospital and reads him the poem. Enrique comments that the poem is depressing and needs a beat behind it. They begin to rap banter back and forth.
It’s a new day and Miss Edna is excited because her son is finally home! He walks in the door and picks up Miss Edna, spinning her into a hug. He also hugs Lonnie and greets him as a brother. This warms Lonnie’s heart and he starts to feel at home. He feels the poetry all around him.
At school, Lonnie turns in his final poem and reads it for the audience. Ms. Marcus is in awe as Lonnie recounts his parents dying in an apartment building fire. As he reads, his family flows around him in a half-memory.
In his next poem, Lonnie tells us about going to camp with his sister. He also decides to join her every Sunday for church even though Lili’s foster mother isn’t a fan of it.
Lili greets Lonnie as he gets off the bus for church. She hands him a tootsie pop and spins her dress for him to see. She asks him to recite a poem he wrote about their mother as they walk to church.
Extend the Experience
virtual activities on the
Flipgrid Discovery Library
Flipgrid is an asynchronous education engagement tool that allows students to access specific media or curriculum-based resources while interacting with classmates and educators via video. CTC’s Flipgrid topics explore technical theatre, mindfulness, songwriting, playwriting, and more. Copy the topics directly to your Flipgrid classroom to get the creativity started!
in person or virtual
Workshops & Residencies
CTC transforms the classroom through multi-disciplined interactive workshops that spark creativity, encourage collaboration, and inspire action. Professional teaching artists facilitate engaging and inclusive learning opportunities for students while personalizing each experience to the needs and interests of your students and the learning goals of your classroom.