This month, WFMN staff welcomed Lucas Erickson, donor-partner and member of WFMN’s Advancement Committee, and his theater outreach program, On Stage: Creating a Community Dialogue Around Live Theater, for a reading and discussion of Marie and Rosetta. Joining Lucas were actor Rajané Katurah Brown, performing as Marie in the play; Wendy Knox, artistic director of Frank Theater and director of Marie and Rosetta at Park Square Theater; and Maria Asp, Neighborhood Bridges Program Director and Teaching Artist at Children’s Theater Company.
Lucas created On Stage to make local theater relevant to younger and nontraditional audiences by identifying their personal connections to topics presented in local theatrical productions and bringing the performances to them to inspire a future audience of theater-goers. This was the second time WFMN staff was afforded the opportunity to see On Stage in action and to hear actors read scenes from the productions, and then engage in discussions of the play’s themes, tying in current events and personal values and experiences.
Marie and Rosetta tells the story of singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, celebrated for bringing fierce guitar playing and swing to gospel music. Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, Sister Rosetta performed gospel in the morning and swing music at the Cotton Club at night to become a legend and major influence on rock ‘n’ roll’s earliest icons, including Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, and Ray Charles. The play focuses on her first rehearsal in Mississippi in 1946 with a young protégée, Marie Knight, as they prepare for a tour that would establish them as one of the great duet teams in musical history.
Rajané and Maria read a scene from the play, then asked for our reactions. Most of us had never heard of Sister Rosetta Tharpe or Marie Knight before, which led to a discussion about the importance of bringing to the forefront the stories of women, people of color, and others whose histories haven’t been widely told. WFMN believes hearing stories and perspectives directly from women and girls and underrepresented communities and elevating their voices is powerful and energizing, and a critical strategy to engage, influence, and mobilize Minnesotans to create narrative shifts in institutional practices and policies, and attitudes and beliefs.
Because the arts can be a powerful tool in activism and social change, WFMN incorporates the arts with an intersectional equity framework into our work, convenings, and events. WFMN staff have thoroughly enjoyed our two experiences with On Stage and are grateful to Lucas Erickson for engaging us in local productions that tie to our mission, vision, and values. We’re already looking forward to the next visit!
By Jess Kubis, WFMN Development Manager