Again, this post is also long overdue! But the experience is fresh in my mind, so here we go!
On October 5th and 6th, I workshopped my play, Freedom Hill, which is an homage to Thorton Wilder’s Our Town. Set from 1870 to 1885, Freedom Hill is a metatheatrical play that follows the everyday lives of newly freed black citizens. I received an Arts and Humanities grant from UNC to support the research, writing, development, and presentation of a play focused on Environmental Justice. When I applied for the grant, I knew that I wanted focus on Princeville, North Carolina, the oldest historically black town in the United States of America. However, when I arrived in Princeville, the direction of the play changed dramatically. Click here to learn more about how this play came to be.
Shirley Serotsky was unable to join us in North Carolina, so we video conferenced her into rehearsal. Jules Odendahl-James was our new play development dramaturg. Like Shirley, Jules is a very dear friend and frequent collaborator. Both of these women are director/dramaturgs and they are absolutely brilliant. They have sharp minds, are skillful with actors in the rehearsal process, and they know just what to say to inspire revisions and help me make sense of my play.
For this workshop, the cast included Aliese Cobb, Thaddeus Edwards, Jennifer Evans, Rasool Jahan, Tia James, Thomasi McDonald, Monet Marshall, and Marcus Zollicoffer. Erin Bell was our stage manager and photographer. Stage directions were read by Bethany Lockhart and Takhona Hlatshwako, who is working with me this semester as a research assistant through UNC's Institute for the Arts and Humanities Honors Collaboration.
On the first day, we read and discussed the script. The most interesting part of the discussion was that half of the actors had read or seen Our Town, but the other half had not. So, the structure and metatheatrical conceit was new to them, and the ending was both devastating and a surprise. On the second day, we focused on the second movement. I had made a major revisions the night before and wanted to see how the cuts worked. Now, this isn’t something I usually do with only two days of rehearsal. I usually like to jump back in and hear the play. So, it to was nice to focus in on one movement and really allow the cast explore the world. On both days, we also discussed the power of gathering as black theatre artists to tell the stories of our community. That was very powerful to me. It helped me to know that my adaptation, which works to tell the story of early citizens of Princeville, holds up on its own. Freedom Hill has its own voice and sense of urgency.
Now, I’m not sure when I’ll have a chance to revisit this play in workshop, but it’s being read by a handful of theatres across the country. So, my fingers are crossed that it will find a home soon. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, I'm excited to share a few photos of our time together. Once again, these photos were taken by Erin Bell @bullcityphotography. Click here to learn more about her work.
Freedom Hill Ensemble
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!