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“A Seat at the Table” examines the life of civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer

February 21, 2017

Regina Taylor works with Prof. Martin McClendon during a read through of "A Seat at the Table."Regina Taylor works with Prof. Martin McClendon during a read through of "A Seat at the Table."

If doors that opened for the nation’s most prominent civil rights leader had similarly opened for Fannie Lou Hamer, a former senator once said “we would have had a female Martin Luther King.”

Forty years after Ms. Hamer died, Golden Globe-winning actress and playwright Regina Taylor is making sure the voting rights activist won’t be forgotten. Commissioned to write the latest work in Carthage’s New Play Initiative, she wrote “A Seat at the Table” based on Ms. Hamer’s life.

‘A Seat at the Table’

WHEN:
7:30 p.m. March 3-4
7:30 p.m. March 9-11
3 p.m. March 5

WHERE:
Wartburg Theatre, David A. Straz Jr. Center

TICKETS:

$14, $10 for seniors 55 and older, $8 for students. Get tickets. Carthage students, faculty, and staff are eligible for two complimentary tickets, available at the Fine Arts box office only.

A plantation worker for much of her life, Ms. Hamer lost her job when she tried to register to vote. She later received a severe beating after being jailed on a trumped-up charge in 1963. Still, the Mississippi woman went on to give televised testimony at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

“Her message of the tenacity of the human spirit — that’s what democracy is supposed to be about,” Ms. Taylor said. “She continued on in what might seem like failure.”

In the lead-up to the play’s March 3 premiere in the Wartburg Theatre, Ms. Taylor has returned to campus multiple times. In January, she flew in for a preliminary read-through after filming an episode of the CBS drama “Elementary” in New York.

The soft-spoken playwright offered suggestions about the pace of the dialogue, characters’ motives, and historical context. Although protests against injustice linger, Ms. Taylor conveyed that the stakes were even higher a half-century ago.

“It’s about moving forward, not moving on,” she said. “We need to know our history.”

Ms. Taylor earned a best actress Golden Globe and a pair of Emmy nominations in the 1990s for her role as Lilly Harper in the TV drama “I’ll Fly Away”. On stage, she was the first African-American woman to play Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet” on Broadway, and her musical “Crowns” earned four Helen Hayes awards.

An artistic associate with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and resident playwright for the Signature Company in New York, Ms. Taylor is thrilled to work with Carthage students.

“You get the enthusiasm, the ferocity, this boundless energy and inspiration,” she said.

With a cast of historical figures in their 40s and beyond, Ms. Taylor is relying on the college-aged actors to test their range.

“They get to stretch themselves with different ages or even multiple characters,” she said.

Theatre Department chair Martin McClendon directs the play. Professor Dimitri Shapovalov provides music direction, employing iconic civil rights hymns.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. March 3-4 and March 9-11, plus 3 p.m. March 5. All performances are held at the Wartburg Theatre in the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Natural and Social Sciences.

Carthage students, faculty, and staff are eligible for two complimentary tickets, which are available at the Fine Arts box office only. Cost to the public is $14, $10 for seniors 55 and older, and $8 for students.

Seating is limited. To buy tickets, visit www.carthage.edu/tickets or call the Fine Arts box office at 262-551-6661 between noon and 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.