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Why Boston’s Black Community Needs Encounter Theatre As a Means of Social Change
Includes excerpt from the book “Encounter Theatre” By Dr. David D. Coleman II Over a decade ago Professor David D. Coleman then the chair of Roxbury Community College’s Humanities Department created a program of Theatre Arts unlike any before
Utilized by The Royall House of Medford, The African Meeting House Boston, and even The Girl Scouts of America under the Guidance of Pamela Goncalves Founder of Sister Circle. A choreographic piece called Liquid steel based on his play was further adapted and presented as an historical dance piece by Boston’s Stajez Dance Company. The following is how this resurgence of Theatre in the Boston Community began.
"In the original production of the play Words of Resistance (eventually to become a trilogy) preference was given to an all-black cast however; at least one male
and one female role would be cast with white actors. in addition they cover the range of characters (both negative and positive). The fifth actor serves as a historical footnote through out the play (newspaper reporter, community resident, politician.)
whose roles and actions were pivotal points in New England African American history.
The narrator is the present-day storyteller who guides the participants through the
The Social Change Stage involves discoveries both individual and collective
about the worth of the encounter. Finding value in what you have experienced is vital for
it will motivate you to want to use this newfound understanding [knowledge] in a very
productive way. They discover that the encounter was not just a performance but an
educational experience from which they individually and collectively learned about a
piece of history, shared it with various communities, and in the process came to know
more about each other and about themselves.
Michael Thierry a local actor, artist, and educator who has been working with
various productions of the Words of Reflection project for more than fifteen years
comments about his experience: " D.Coleman
As an actor and educator I was interested in doing performances that had
social relevance within the community of Roxbury, as a long-time resident
I was impressed with the level of community support to grassroots theatre
productions... it never ceased to amaze me how relevant African
American/Black History is to all Americans. The very principles.
precepts, and foundations of the liberty espoused by our founding fathers
were made reality only through the trials and tribulations of the African in
America. I have used historical data from the play when discussing things
like gentrification in Boston, answering why neighborhoods are so racially
and ethnically diverse yet oftentimes divided. Also in speaking to
students about the community of the American experience from the
N.I.N.A. (No Irish Need Apply) signs of 19"^ century Boston, to the
separate but equal 'Jim Crow' legislation fought against by men such as
A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King you could not have men like
these without the Maria Stewart's and Scipio Dalton's of the distant past.
They paved the way.
What was most enjoyable was watching grade school students get an
understanding that the battle for freedom in America was an ongoing one
fought on many levels even in their own neighborhoods. during question and answer sessions where they would put themselves in the
place of their ancestors and realize there was no one to phone, no one to
order a tank or aircraft carrier from, the Abolitionist and opposers of
Slavery had to rely on themselves, self-reliance was and is the reality of
Black America... one moment in particular that stands out is when one
actor posing as a slave catcher questions a small white child about 10
years old about whether he knew where the escaped slaves were hiding
and the child became so distraught he started crying and tried to hit the
actor. After that experience we decided to tone down the acting but keep
the information when dealing with younger crowds."
A very powerful moment when the acting reaches a level of realism when audience
participants are so moved that they want to act out. This is another aspect of social
change transitioning into empowerment.
In every Act of Words someone learned something, either through the
performance or the viewing. Encounter Theatre brings the past to life and ignites in the young a thirst to know more about themselves for these are supermen and wonder
women so amazing is the fact these voices were of real people.
Boston’s African Meeting House still continues the traditionstarted by Dr. David Coleman Every Tuesday and Thursdaythe following is a description of the current 2012 theatre project.Meet the Abolitionists - A Theatrical Presentation
How did Frederick Douglass prepare to recruit the members of the 54th Regiment to fight in the Civil War? Hear the detailed conversations of Ellen and William Craft's dangerous plan to escape from slavery. What were David Walker's thoughts while writing his manifesto to the Colored Citizen's of the US? Meet these fascinating abolitionists along with William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth and Susan Paul
Every Tuesday and Thursday one of these historical figures will be presented by an experienced actor who will share through a theatrical performance the insights of some of their greatest, conflicting and agonizing moments as they fought to end slavery. To read the complete book for free see link below:
Dr. Coleman is currently the Dean of Humanities at MassBay College in Boston Ma.In Dr. Coleman’s professional experience, looking at the populations that he serves, primarily adolescent and adult, he has discovered that the use of theatre has been a very powerful tool in teaching diversity, empowering segments of the population with the informational tools needed to aid them in addressing their own social issues and concerns. As an educator with over thirty years of professional experience teaching at all levels, in both traditional and non-traditional environments, Dr. Coleman is always looking for innovative ways of enhancing the educational experience of his students. In the process of his own discovery and professional development his students are key beneficiaries.
As a theatre educator and arts administrator, he has over the last thirty years created a range of theatrical works that are designed specifically as a means of teaching cultural history through the joint artistic participation of both thespians and patrons. Participatory Theatre as a means of social empowerment is at the core of this body of work. Having performed these works in varying settings and communities and acquiring varying levels of success, Dr. Coleman has come to the determination that it is time to assess their true academic properties from instructional and cultural as well as professional perspectives. His curiosity of the principles of psychodrama and the connection of therapy, drama and educational empowerment is vital to his professional pursuits. Elements of psychodrama techniques can be adapted as useful tools in Encounter Theatre, but only those spontaneous elements that are transforming and enlightening, not those elements that stagnate creative vision and expression. The therapeutic elements used as a conduit for artistic purposes gain deeper awareness of character and thematic intent. This study develops the main characteristics of Encounter Theatre and how they are seen in various works.
1998 The Extra Mile Award Roxbury Community College
1993 Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities Major Grant