The N.C. A&T Theatre Arts Program has a reputation for developing and presenting original plays. The most recent original work, “Mississippi Born and Bred” debuts Oct. 19 and is written by A&T Theatre Arts Program Director and Associate Professor Darius Williams.
For this production, A&T has enlisted film, television and stage actress Johnnie Mae Allen as a special guest star.
“Mississippi Born and Bred” takes place in the mid-1960s during the height of the Civil Rights Era. Williams’ script reflects those larger events taking place in Mississippi — the struggle to end Jim Crow, the shooting of civil rights activist James Meredith and Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders stepping in to finish Meredith’s March Against Fear from Memphis to Jackson, Miss.
However, the focus of the play is the personal story of Mook, a 14-year-old African-American girl struggling to find herself and dealing with unresolved pain related to her Southern accent, her dark skin and kinky hair.
She is guided on this journey by Miss Emma, a wise older woman played by Allen.
“I help Mook go through her rite of passage,” Allen said. “This play will appeal to young people.”
Williams describes “Mississippi Born and Bred” as “a coming of age memory play.”
The play originally came out of a workshop Williams took part in at the Mississippi Black Theater Festival and has gone through multiple phases of development since then. A presentation at the National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem brought Williams and Allen together.
“Dr. Williams says, ‘You are my Emma!’ The next day, he calls me and emailed me the script. I just loved the character.”
Allen said, “People feel they’re close to God when they come to Miss Emma.” The character “represents the voices and memories of the living and the dead,” Williams said.
For A&T’s students involved in the production, working with Allen gives them a chance to work with a veteran, Audelco Award-winning performer who has appeared on numerous TV shows including “Law and Order: SVU”, “Boardwalk Empire”, “Blue Bloods” and “30 Rock”, along with such movies as “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
“That was my goal — to give them the opportunity to engage with a seasoned professional,” Williams said. “She’s a mentor to these students.”
For her part, Allen said she has embraced the opportunity to work with the student performers.
“They come to me and have all of these questions,” she said. “I’m really enjoying the whole process.”
This production is a part of ArtsGreensboro’s 17 Days Arts & Culture Festival.
Contact Bruce Buchanan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This News & Record arts coverage is supported by contributions to ArtsGreensboro’s Arts & Theatre Media Fund.
Authored by Janine Maureen