“A Performance of Pan-African Tales as told by Virginia Hamilton” Coming to Kent State
Bountiful music, colorful, and collaborative are just a few ways to describe the upcoming reenactment of tales titled, A Performance of Pan-African Tales as told by Virginia Hamilton. The performance, which will be held May 3 at 7:30 pm in the African Community Theater in Ritchie Hall (225 Terrace Dr., Kent, OH 44242), will feature a reenactment of fables from acclaimed children’s folklorist (and Ohio native) Virginia Hamilton. The event is free and open to the public. Doors will open at 7 pm, and there will be a dessert reception immediately following the performance.
The performance will feature retold tales selected from Hamilton’s Ring of Tricksters: Animal Tales from America, the West Indies, and Africa and The People Could Fly: The Picture Book. These etiological tales explain human and naturalistic phenomena directly from Africa, the Caribbean and the United States. Many of the fables involve animals with human characteristics and explain natural phenomena, such as why zebras have stripes.
Tameka Ellington, Ph.D., The Fashion School faculty director for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, served as the principal investigator and lead costume designer of this project. Dr. Ellington has always been inspired by African fables and history, something she incorporates into all aspects of her work.
“A lot of the design work I do is either coming from a form of cultural art or tale in regards to how a particular tribe believes the world got started,” says Dr. Ellington. “Over the summer, I got a chance to read two books by Virginia Hamilton, A Ring of Tricksters and The People Could Fly, and the performance we are doing is going to be taking one tale from each of those books.”
A Performance of Pan-African Tales will serve as a collaborative tribute to Hamilton’s creative work, with Dr. Ellington receiving assistance from several Kent State faculty members and students in order to make this performance possible. Fashion School and School of Theatre and Dance Assistant Professor Kerry Jo Bauer, a specialist in mass fabrication, developed all of the character masks, making them “come to life.” Gregory King, the Kent Dance Ensemble artistic director and assistant professor of dance, used his Broadway experience to choreograph the entire show. Mr. King served as a dancer in The Lion King Broadway play for seven years. Additionally, Bababcar M’Baye, Ph.D., an associate professor in both the Pan-African Studies and English departments, will serve as the storyteller in the performance. Many students also contributed by assisting with the initial research of the project, helping to design the costumes, performing the dance compositions, assisting with staging and lighting, as well as the design and execution of the promotional marketing materials.
“I have a real all-star team helping me," Dr. Ellington says. "Everyone has been absolutely wonderful."
With this event, Dr. Ellington hopes to enlighten the community about African culture and to introduce Hamilton to people who are not familiar with her books.
“There are so many misconceptions about what the African culture is," Dr. Ellington says. "Through the work that I do, I’m hoping to dispel some of those myths and show the sophistication and the beauty of the African community, and with this particular performance, I hope to introduce Virginia Hamilton to people who have never heard of her before, so that they are inspired to read her incredible work."
This performance was just one of five performance pieces awarded a College of the Arts Catalyst Grant. Dr. Ellington received the full $5,000 available in order to make the performance a reality. Catalyst Grants are awarded to faculty for interdisciplinary research and creative projects that include the involvement of undergraduate students and at least one other faculty member from another school within the College of the Arts.
In addition to the May event, the University will hold its annual Virginia Hamilton Conference in October, honoring Hamilton and celebrating her commitment to cultural awareness and pride. This conference is the longest-running event in the U.S. to focus exclusively on multicultural literature for children and young adults. The conference will take place on Oct. 12 in the Kent Student Center.