POSTED ON AUGUST 25, 2010:
Speaking to the Roots
Project allows children to connect with heritage through performance and writing
Local actress, director and playwright Vanessa Adams-Harris is instructing young boys in not just theater arts but culture and history as well.
She began this summer teaching theater at the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club North Mabee Center under the auspices of The August Wilson Project, featuring black culture through Wilson's plays.
"I've always wanted children, particularly African American children, to be aware they are creative beings and have the capacity to be writers and playwrights," Harris said.
She also said it's important for young black children to be aware of black theater and its significance in history and said Wilson's work is crucial to that significance.
She's working with about seven boys, ages 9 to 13, engaging them in Wilson's work through readers' theater. She doesn't expect them to read the words perfectly, she said, but she wants them to hear and be aware of their own voices.
"In that process, they are actually listening to the text," Harris said. "They're listening to the conversation that's going on."
The project, which has the boys working with Harris three times a week, will culminate in a performance Thursday, Sept. 2, at 7pm in the Charles E. Norman Theatre of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. 2nd St.
The boys, along with men from 100 Black Men of Tulsa Inc., will read from Wilson's Fences.
"Is there a difference in the voices of the men and the boys?" Harris said. "Will we be able to hear that? Will we be able to hear these young voices saying very adult sentences, and then, when we hear the adult voices say it, is it the same or different?"
Harris said the next phase of her project will be to engage the boys in writing their own work.
Harris said she chose to work with children at the North Mabee Center because they live in the heart of north Tulsa and come from various backgrounds.
"I wanted to get a real sense of these kids and their lives and expose them to something they have not been exposed to before," she said.
Harris is Muscogee (Creek) Indian and black, and she's perhaps best known for her acclaimed work in one-woman shows such as Who Will Sing for Lena?, Big Mama Speaks and A Simple Act of Courage. Her last project, Amy's Beauty, engaged young black girls, which is why, this time, she targeted boys.
"I think that boys are just great little creatures and that we overlook boys sometimes," Harris said. "I know that the culture says we overlook girls, but I'm really seeing we're overlooking boys, and we need to give them some extra attention to understand what is happening in the transition from a boy to a teenager to a man.
"We need to see if we can listen and see them a little bit better -- see them with different eyes, hear them with different ears, notice them with a different sense. Stop trying to make them into these tough, rough-and-tumble things but allow them to be engaged in their feelings and emotions and thoughts. We do that with little girls but not boys."
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