“Cultivating Dignity”

On Aug. 10, Alycia Bright Holland and Kristen Morgan, assistant professors of performing arts/theatre, presented “Cultivating Dignity,” a newly devised, work-in-progress production about Connecticut’s rich African American history.

The production emerged from Bright-Holland and Morgan’s 180 Performance in Context Summer 2018” production.  “This play was centered around the experiences of migrant African American tobacco farm laborers in Connecticut as well as other immigrants who came across the seas,” wrote Bright-Holland and Morgan.The scenes depict those who came to work in Connecticut during ‘The Great Migration’ as a means of escape from racial tensions in the South. Some of these laborers, including civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, also came from Morehouse College to earn money for tuition. The story being told reflects the complexity of the real life struggles of exploitation that the migrants faced in their quest for opportunity. The narrative arch begins in Georgia and follows the characters to Connecticut, specifically the tobacco fields in the rural towns surrounding Hartford.”

The three-week intensive theatre workshop exposed students to a variety of guest artists and historians, including Eastern history scholar and author Stacey Close, History Professor Barbara Tucker and Bishop John Selders, associate chaplin for Christian life at Trinity College, three key people in developing this documentary theatre for the stage. “Our primary modes of research for cultivating dignity consisted of oral history and geneology and archival research on Connecticut, and field work with the Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum,” explained Holland and Morgan. “Historical content was then applied, using the Moment Work technique developed by the Tectonic Theatre Project as a means to craft a narrative expressive of experiences in the Connecticut tobacco fields.”

Similar to their three-year process of building Thread City in fall 2017, Bright-Holland and Morgan invited this summer’s group of STEP-CAP students to help initiate the creative process of devising an original theatrical production. “We would especially like to emphasize the importance of including and enfranchising non-performers as participants in this and other productions of its kind. One of the hallmarks of community-based theatre is to make work that is engaging and accessible to all, and which seeks to reflect the complex realities of everyday life.”