'Flight': Slavery Narratives Onstage
The Los Angeles Center Theatre Group’s youth theatre program P.L.A.Y. (Performing for Los Angeles Youth) recently commissioned writer and performance artist Charlayne Woodward to create a play about the African-American storytelling tradition. The only catch was the play had to appeal to both adults and children.
Woodward happily accepted the offer -- after all, she will tell you that storytelling is in her blood. After some searching, she centered on an oral tradition that was both theatrical and stirring: slave narratives, the testimonials about slavery by the slaves themselves.
The result is her play Flight, set in the woods just off a plantation near Savannah, Ga. The year is 1858, years before emancipation, and a group of slaves share their stories. "I wrapped them in a story and put them in time when people needed the story, when they really used the stories. Not just for entertainment, but to live by," Woodward tells Roy Hurst.
Among the five characters appearing on stage is Nate, played by Frank Faucette. He first enters wielding a machete, ready to do damage to those responsible for selling his wife away for teaching their son how to read. The elders work to calm him down, and convince him to join in their storytelling. Together they all try to reassure Nate's son to climb down from the tree where he's hiding.
Los Angeles County got the play it commissioned: a fast-moving 90 minutes of colorful black folk tales. Of course, county officials may not have expected a play about slavery. Woodward says the limitations of creating a play that appeals to both adults and children were challenging.
"In this incarnation, this is what I could give," she says. "When you first do a play... it just lets you know all your flaws. It's just that simple. I'm looking forward to other productions of this play so that I can actually see the vision I have for it.
Flight recently ended its scheduled four-week run at the brand-new Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, Calif.
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