The Power of Memory
No one other than I, know how personal and powerful this journey to Edinburgh has been. My desire to bring African American theatre to a country where there is none, has been a twelve year journey borne from memories of when I was in graduate school in Glasgow, Scotland. When I started the M-Theatre Project three years ago it was with the idea that every third year we would perform the show at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival. It has been a process fraught with perils, pitfalls and discovery on the fly. How to make this work! The available student talent pool will always dictate what plays we can do and when I looked around at who as available I knew we had the talent to do an August Wilson play. August Wilson was Shakespeare re-born and in order to build this company of actors right, they needed to understand why August wrote: He wanted to write plays where African American culture was the subject of the play, not an object in the play. I hammered this point at almost every rehearsal, explaining what a responsibility as company we had to the play, playwright, culture, history and the society in which we live, and now that we’re performing it internationally, the world.
The trip over was easy, our arrival at our various flats uneventful as was our tech rehearsal. The performances have been very good, solid work from this group of actors and the audience numbers have been extremely good considering there are over 4200 shows here and the average audience size is four, we have been averaging double digit audience members and that will only grow this week. The students have been phenomenal! Their work ethic, focus and commitment to listening to the only adult chaperone they will have on this trip, have all been stellar. They found their footing quickly as most walk everywhere they go. They look out for each other, care for each other, cook for each other. They are all amazed by simple things, like the age of some of the buildings in Edinburgh, the wide variety of different languages they hear, the accents, the dress styles and hair color. I have enjoyed watching them as they laugh together and discover the city of Edinburgh and the Festival proper. We have had several moments they will never forget. Their first taste of Haggis, deep-fried Mars bar and Snickers, the very colorful money here and what a five pence piece looks like. They have learned to look both ways as they cross the street, that chips are really french fries and that crisps are potato chips. That sticky toffee pudding is neither pudding or toffee, but it is sticky and very good. I have enjoyed getting to know them better outside of what I know about them from the classroom and for some of them, their extraordinary eating habits! Some of these kids can eat!! I am encouraging them to explore even more of the city, see as much theatre as they can and to try new and different things. Many have been to the castle that sits at the top of the hill overlooking our flat. Some are seeing up to three different plays a day and all of them seem to be enjoying the experience of being in Europe for the first time.
I am struck by a personal sense of completion, one that includes the personal as political and stands as another example of each one, teach one. While there are over 4200 different shows here, you can count on two fingers the number of African American plays and one of those fingers would belong to us. Theatre remains one of the most powerful message boards we have ever known. It can teach, it can enlighten, it can open minds and in some small way, that is what we’re doing with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in Edinburgh, Scotland. I remember the very personal reasons why this was important to me and through the laughter, hard work and commitment of the cast, I am reminded of it’s importance to all of us as we seek to be the change we’d like to see. Memory can be a powerful thing when put into positive action.