POSTED ON FEBRUARY 20, 2008:
History Refuels Itself
One-woman show honors prominent African American women for Black History Month
Herstory. "The AWE Series" is a one-woman show featuring vignettes about the lives of various African-American and African women. Well known names like Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King are subjects.
Suit up and show up.
Cecilia Antoinette lives by this motto.
The actress, performing in Theatre North's presentation of "The Awe Series," has the resume to prove it.
"I was living in New York, hanging out at theatres, and I would stand in for no-shows. That builds relationships and reliability with people. And you go from there. Seventy-five percent of the job is showing up," Antoinette said.
"The AWE Series" is a one-woman show featuring vignettes about the lives of various African and African-American women. Well-known names like Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King are subjects, as well as lesser known figures in history, such as Cathay Williams, Ruby Dee and Shirley Chisolm. AWE is an acronym for "African and African-American Women of Endeavors."
Cecilia Antoinette, an OU graduate also known as "CeCe," will perform each individual vignette as the woman whose life is portrayed.
Theatre North presents this performance in observation of Black History Month.
A brief history on Theatre North:
In the mid-70s, a group of African-American women who wanted to act started a performing arts group. They named it "Theatre North."
Motivated by lack of opportunities to rehearse and display their craft, these women created a venue where black actors can cultivate and exhibit their skills. Now in their 28th year, Theatre North is Oklahoma's only African-American community theatre company.
Since 1997, Theatre North has staged more than 10 festivals, 85 productions, 255 performances and numerous workshops and summer youth programs.
What a legacy from a group of women in the seventies who simply "wanted to act."
This month, the AWE Series puts the focus on select African and African-American women who have had an impact on our culture.
Antoinette feels that her performance sheds light on a crime committed by our government.
"The biggest travesty in Western history regards omission. The omission of the lives and contributions of people of color," she said.
To Antoinette, her body and voice are a vehicle to reveal the truths that have been bleached away by the hegemonic, homogenizing regime that is created, upheld and perpetuated by the myth of American history.
"In these efforts, we are including ourselves in the history of America and the history of the world," she said.
Antoinette knows the power of performance.
As a young person, she was a "closet" writer and poet. An internship in Philadelphia changed all that. As production assistant for a show hosted by a then lesser-known Maury Povich, Antoinette began to feel an awakening inside.
After work, she unwound with young black poets. The air in Philly then was politically charged, and as a result of this, a vibrant poetic community emerged. The effect of having her political and social points of view expressed was priceless and life changing for Antoinette.
She founded "Joyful Noise" during the '80s, a spoken-word musical group, along with an ordained Kemetic priestess drummer, a cellist and a flautist. Antoinette, the poetic vocalist of the group, was charged from this experience.
Moving back to New York, she discovered the benefits of "suiting up and showing up." A no-show for her became an opportunity to walk on stage and develop/exhibit her performance skills.
Next, she took her talents to regional theatres around the country. A meeting with George Houston Bass, at the time a professor at Brown University, took her life to new heights.
In the 1930s, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, pillars of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote a play together entitled Mulebone.
The writing of the play was a joint venture between the lovers, but Hughes and Hurston broke up, and the rest is history. Hughes rose to stardom, Hurston died penniless and Mulebone was soon forgotten.
In 1991, Bass decided to revive Mulebone; he cast Antoinette. The play debuted on Broadway, and Antoinette considers it a success in her life. I'm guessing the word Broadway on a performer's resume would automatically elevate one to the upper echelons of entertainment.
Antoinette has since performed in roles on prime-time television. Law & Order: SVU, Desperate Housewives, Girlfriends and Brothers & Sisters are a few of the shows she's visited.
Today, Antoinette is working with "Dream Shapers" of L.A., which provides educational programs to the library system in California.
Antoinette felt her AWE series is relevant today and encouraged everyone to come. This is not a show just for black women.
"The women whom I portray shaped our culture, attitudes, behaviors and belief systems. Right now in America, there is a rise of empowerment for groups who have felt powerless before. Barack and Hilary are living the American dream to the fullest extent. What they are doing is empowering to all people.
"I developed this series at first to empower young people of all cultures. It is a way for us to learn, revisit, share and remember our humanity," said Antoinette.
"We learn by culture. Culture shares ideas, facts and rituals that reestablish or disestablish the current modes. To come to a performance like this forces us to reexamine our inner agendas," she continued.
Theatre North's presentation of "The AWE Series! African & African-American Women and their Endeavors" could very well spark some of that honest dialogue.
The show runs February 22 & 23 at 8pm and February 24 at 3pm at the Charles E. Norman Theater at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. 2nd St. Tickets are $20 for adults. Seniors, students and groups of 10+ pay $15. Contact Theatre North at 596-1611 or at tactaforum.net.
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