Juneteenth to celebrate, educate [Theater]

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An African-American celebration is to be had for all to enjoy during the Juneteenth Legacy Theatre's jamboree beginning on June 3.

All performances and workshops in the Juneteenth Jamboree will take place in the Victor Jory Theatre at Actors Theatre, located at 316 W. Main Street in downtown Louisville.

Each performance will take place on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday beginning June 3. Thursday and Friday performances will occur at 8 p.m. while Saturday performances will happen at 5 p.m. as well as 8 p.m.

Performances are set to include the Juneteenth Blues Cabaret (June 3-5), Till and How Long Have I Been Dead Anyway? (June 10-12) and Passing Ceremonies (June 17-19). In a break from tradition of staged readings, each show was featured in Jamborees past.

Workshops, meanwhile, are set to take place on Saturdays June 5 (monlogue), June 12 (playwriting) and June 19 (audition). Each workshop will begin at 2 p.m.

Tickets for each show and workshop depend on the day. Individual tickets for Thursday shows are $!0 per person while Friday and Saturday shows are $15 per person. To see all shows in the festival, a pass can be purchased for $25 for Thursday shows or $39 for Friday and Saturday shows.

All tickets can be purchased by either going to the Actors Theatre website (scroll to the bottom of the ATL page for Juneteenth tickets) or by calling the ATL box office at 502-584-1205.

Juneteenth Jamboree is set to finish on June 19, which is the day of the Juneteenth holiday. The holiday celebrated the emancipation of the final people from slavery on June 19, 1865.

The Juneteenth Blues Cabaret will lead off the festival and run from June 3 to June 5. The production will feature performances of music from well-known African-American women artists who pushed the boundary of what an African-American woman could be.

Thyais Walsh, DuAnne Hawkins-Cooper, Mary Audrey Holt, and Gordon Thomas will perform music from artists like Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Bessie Smith, Dinah Washington, and others.  Juneteenth co-founder Lorna Littleway created the book for the production.

The cast is looking forward to performing the songs in the show, including some personal favorities. Among those cited were Summerime, Lady Sings the Blues, and What a Difference a Day Makes. Thomas also mentioned God Bless the Child.

"God Bless the Child just really pulls at your heartstrings, and our goal is by the time we finish, there won't be a dry eye in the house," Thomas said.

Another potential highlight from the show could be Shake That Thing, which shows, according to Hawkins-Cooper, "our persona, our freedom, out strength, but we need love."

Following the Cabaret will be performances of both Till and How Long Have I Been Dead Anyway? which will run from June 10 until June 12.

Till, which was entered into the 2005 jamboree entry, features the story of Marnie Till, whose teenage son Emmett was killed and tortured for whistling at a white woman. Marnie's decision to have an open-casket funeral led to an anti-lynching law to be passed by the US Congress.

Ifa Bayeza wrote Till, which will be performed by Holt, as Marnie, and Pierre Priest, as Emmett. Sue Lawless directed the production.

Meanwhile, How Long Have I Been Dead Anyway? is a comedy showcasing an elderly couple trying to prove to the local social security office that they are alive. The production made its way to Juneteenth in 2001.

Carridder Rita Jones, co-founder of Women Who Write, created How Long Have I Been Dead Anyway, which was directed by Jeff Rodgers. George Bailey and Juneteenth co-founder Kristi Papailler will perform the roles of the couple.

During the final weekend, June 17-19, the festival will feature Passing Ceremonies, which deals with issues of black homosexuality and AIDS victims. In this production, Bruce Nugent, a Harlem Renaissance Era poet, is writing a book on older, gay African-American men. Nugent has an imagined conversation with AIDS activist poet Essex Hemphill.

Steve Willis created Passing Ceremonies, which appeared in the Jamboree in 2006. Lawless directed the production that included Keith McGill as Hemphill and Bryan Webster and Nugent.

Despite the festival featuring African-American actors and subjects, the actors felt there was still a lack of available opportunities in the overall theatre world. Thomas noted the lack of opportuniites locally.

Walsh, who has acting experience regionally and in New York, added, "We've come a long way, and there's a lot of doors that are opening up. But It's still limited."

Ultimately, with the coming Juneteenth performances, the cast hopes to entertain as well as educate the audience.

"You're seeing a piece of life, you're seeing a piece of history, you're seeing a piece of culture," Walsh said.

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