By Foster Nicholas | Reporter
The Waco Civic Theatre will be putting its spin on the 1995 Tony Award nominee, “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years,” by Emily Mann, in honor of Black History Month.
Eric Shephard, executive director of the Waco Civic Theatre, is excited to celebrate Black History Month and aims to create an environment that is always celebrating. The show is about a 103-year-old woman and a 101-year-old woman who reflect on their lives.
“What’s very interesting was that these two sisters literally lived together for over a century and as they grew up, they experienced so many different eras in American history, from Jim Crow, to the Harlem Renaissance, to the civil rights movement,” Shephard said. “I mean, they were there, firsthand, watching, going through this. As we see on stage, these two sisters, telling these stories is so important. It is American history. It is a part of what made us who we are and I love the play for its storytelling aspect, but also because it is a presentation of the way in which our country has changed and grown, and not changed and not grown, over the lifetime of the people involved. So it’s entertaining, but it’s also instructive and also raises questions.”
While the play is being presented in February, Black History Month isn’t the only reason the show is relevant.
“Celebrating Black History Month is one of the things we want to do to engage African American audiences, actors and the community in general,” Shephard said. “It isn’t just that, our whole job is to make sure that we’re engaging and representing all of our community all the time. I mean, we’re certainly doing it for February, but it’s part of a bigger effort. This is part of a bigger picture, but it is also because of Black History Month.”
George Donaldson will be directing the show and he intends to use the understanding he has acquired over the years to elevate this performance. He said oral history is an integral piece of our overall education and understanding of what life was like for the generations of family and friends who came before us.
It illustrates how as a community we have evolved into a more inclusive, diverse way of living and thinking. We are able to appreciate many aspects of daily life that we are now able to enjoy, that our loved ones who walked before us fought to give us.
Their challenges did not look like ours, and they did not experience the same level playing field that young people of color are afforded today.
“I know most of the things that I’ve learned about my whole life came from my grandmother. My grandmother talked to me a lot, you know, and at a much younger age I thought, ‘Grandma, you talking too much. Why do you want to talk to me so much? You must be lonely or something.’ Now that I’m older and wiser, she was teaching me, and I believe that’s what is very important about this piece,” Donaldson said.
The Waco Civic Theatre gives a unique voice to the stage because it is theater in the round. This means the stage is surrounded by chairs and there is no front or back. Donaldson said that this style of theater will bring out the best of this performance, and engage the audience.
“I think theater in the round gives it that visit to grandma’s house quality. When both Sadie and Bessie are talking you’re here, and if our performances turn out the way they’re designed to, it’s like being talked to by a family member. It’s that personal. And it’s that impactful, and from not much of a greater distance than you would be if you were actually in their home,” Donaldson said. “It gives it a very intimate and inclusive feel.”
Clarissa Pompa, diversity outreach coordinator and PR specialist at the Waco Civic Theatre, said she has grown the community by connecting with local businesses.
“Going out into the community and engaging with outside businesses to try to expand our reach to locations that Baylor students are going to, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Pompa said.
There will be six showings on Feb. 17, 19 and 20, as well as Feb. 24 – 27. Tickets are still available and audiences can expect a beautiful show that is full of emotion.
“What I hope happens for an audience member when they see the show is that they’re going to run through a whole range of emotions,” Shepard said. “I hope when they watch that show, they are inspired to feel angry, to feel laughter and enjoyment, with respect, admiration and compassion. Their stories are really so rich that I hope that an audience member who goes has a complete emotional and psychological experience because it’s an engrossing play. It’s deceptively simple; it’s two women in their home, talking about their lives, but it’s so much more than that.”