First female pro baseball player Toni Stone is subject of new play at the Alliance
As part of an ongoing celebration of Black history, earlier this month, Google had an animated doodle of Toni Stone, the first female professional baseball player, on the top of its homepage. Too few, however, know the face and name of this formidable trailblazer, despite Stone being inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. The remarkable athlete is the subject of the Alliance Theatre’s new production “Toni Stone,” playing through Feb. 27. Director Tinashe Kajese-Bolden and actor Kedren Spencer, who portrays Toni, joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about the play that holds high the torch for the brave Stone and her many feats of athleticism.
Why isn’t Toni Stone a household name?
“Over the years, throughout history, being Black, being a person of color, and then, of course, being a woman, there are many ways in which one can be oppressed and disenfranchised. And I think that historically, especially in this country, there’s just been a history of erasure and forgetting,” said Spencer. “Even today … you watch documentaries about the Negro Leagues, and you go to the Museum of the Negro Leagues and, you know, the three women and Toni, who was the first, and the two other women who played in the Negro Leagues, they aren’t mentioned, sadly.”
“I think that there’s a particular opportunity as storytellers when we are actually speaking about events that have happened and more importantly about events that have been forgotten, that have been rewritten, that have been changed and altered because the historian has decided it does not fit into their narrative,” said Kajese-Bolden. “Typically, that narrative is white male presenting.”
How Stone and baseball were made for each other:
“She just loved baseball so much. You know, she grew up just hanging around the boys, going to the fields, trying to learn and soak up as much as possible. Even as a teen, she would play with these men, with these adult men players, and she just got so good … people could not deny her,” Spencer said.
“She didn’t want to play anything else. The ball is smaller. It requires more acuity, more precision. Playing with men demands more of you, I imagine — certainly back then,” said Spencer. “She demanded to take the space where she wanted to occupy it, and she did. And for her, where she wanted to exist and where she did was in the world of baseball.”
Summoning the spirit of Toni in her eponymous play:
“Lydia has written this very sly and even magnificently off-center character. Lydia Diamond, the playwright, just has this incredible way of falling into Toni’s mind in a very abstract way, a non-traditional way,” said Kajese-Bolden. “Toni, she blazed a trail in a male-dominated sport and world, and she laid a path for herself that nobody else was going to help her lay. And so, the story is done in an unconventional way. I’ve heard it oftentimes described as a memory play. But for me, I interpret it as a conjuring.”
“These are buried narratives that we are resurrecting, and in that, it’s not gentle. We are demanding the audience to lean in to interrogate, ‘Why do we not know these stories?’ And therefore come in and be a part, be complicit in this resurrection which calls for ritual, which calls for explosive reactions, which calls for grace and spirituality, and in that is where that beautiful intersection of sports and theater exists,” Kajese-Bolden said.
“Toni Stone” takes place on the Coca-Cola Stage at the Alliance Theatre in Midtown Atlanta through Feb. 27. Tickets and other information are available at alliancetheatre.org/production/2021-22/toni-stone.