University Becomes First HBCU to Participate in the International Collegiate Theatre Festival Fringe
Photo: Don Hayes
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — When Jewelisia Fagg learned she was one of nine Florida A&M University theatre students selected to represent its Essential Theatre in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, she simply could not believe it.
“I’m a small town girl who has never been west of New Orleans or north of Washington, D.C.,” said Fagg, a senior theatre performance major from Gretna, Florida. “Performing during the Festival Fringe will increase my drive to excel in school and in my career, so that I can be afforded more opportunities to travel to other new and exciting places.”
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest performing arts festival in the world. The annually anticipated event, which will be held August 1-12, 2018, draws performing and visual artists from across the globe who gather to celebrate and appreciate a vast selection of world-wide performances.
Valencia E. Matthews, Ph.D., dean of the FAMU College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, said, “The opportunity for our students to participate in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe provides an extraordinary experience for them, allowing them to engage artistically on the global stage as performers, designers, technicians, and arts administrators. They will use the experience to enrich themselves professionally and the Essential Theatre programmatically.”
For these reasons, the Essential Theatre is partnering with the University and friends to financially support this endeavor. Luther D. Wells, associate director of Theatre and the production coordinator, said “the ticket sales from our Tallahassee production will surely be used, but we are also encouraging friends, family and our patrons to donate to this valiant effort.”
As part of the International Collegiate Theatre Festival Fringe, Essential Theatre will perform “From the Mississippi Delta,” written by critically acclaimed playwright, scholar and civil rights activist— the late, Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland. The University’s contingent includes a student cast and crew, as well as program administrative and production personnel.
Students were carefully selected based on their audition, good academic standing, character, work ethic, and contributions to the Essential Theatre, explained Anedra Small, the play’s director.
“These theatre students will serve as ambassadors for Florida A&M University and the Essential Theatre. And not only will they perform, but they will also help recruit students to the University, attend shows, engage in workshops and experience Scotland,” she said.
Carey Robinson, technical director and lighting designer for the production, believes the international exposure is an added value to the students’ already rich learning experience.
“The student is exposed to thoughts and ideas unlike their own by meeting a variety of people who are culturally different. This opens up the world to the student and can only help them grow and mature as artists, he said.
“From the Mississippi Delta” is an autobiographical play that chronicles the turbulent but transcendent life of Holland, who journeys from a rural Mississippi community in the segregated south to the ivory halls of academia. Her evolution from a childhood rape and decent into prostitution to a civil rights activist with a desire to realize her dreams is proof that some spirits cannot be broken.
Small said performing this play abroad will allow the international community to understand the history and culture of many southern African Americans. The play also challenges the cliché that individuals are a product of their environment.
“In a world in which Black history is slowly being expunged, finding pieces that explore the history and lives of African Americans is imperative,” said Small, as assistant professor of theatre. “I often believe African Americans are prejudged or annihilated due to their circumstances. In spite of Endesha’s arduous background, she was determined to push past her circumstances.”
Jessica Allen, one of the three narrators who tell Holland’s story through multiple characters, explained being the first HBCU to participate in the festival gives FAMU the opportunity to impact international understanding of African-American culture.
“We as HBCU students carry the duty of breaking barriers, educating our own, uplifting our people and telling our narrative as it should be told,” said Allen, a graduating senior from Tampa. “If we want to see change in our representation, a shift in our systemic oppression, a growth in our youth’s self-esteem, and improvement in our mental and physical health, then we must not look at opportunities like this as simple overseas vacations.”
FAMU’s participation is also an opportunity for the international community to gain a new perspective about the quality of African-American institutions and their theatre programs.
“It tells the community and the world that we are producing extremely talented artists and cultivating them to not only be able to use their talents in black theatre, but to give them the ability to merge Black Theatre with the larger theatre community as a whole,” Fagg said.
The students recognize the community’s financial support is an investment in quality representation of the United States on a global stage, and in their effort to build international bridges.
“Our families, friends, colleagues, and mentors are figuratively boarding the plane with us as we travel to Scotland,” Fagg said. “We’re not just going to Scotland for personal pursuits but to be able to establish a partnership that can hopefully continue for future generations.
You can attend “From the Mississippi Delta” benefit performances in Tallahassee, July 26 – 27, at the Charles Winter Wood Theatre. Come out and experience the show as it will be performed at the International Collegiate Theatre Festival at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Seating is limited. For more information and to make a contribution, visit www.famu.edu and click on the “Essential Theatre Strikes in Scotland” button, or call 850-561-2425.
From the Mississippi Delta By Endesha Ida Mae Holland, Ph.D.
Directed by Anedra Small
July 26 – 27, 2018
Charles Winter Wood Theatre | Edmonds Stage
Thursday | 8 p.m.
Friday | 2 p.m. & 8 p.m.
Admission: $25 Adults; $10 Students/Children