By Kelsi Peace, Features Editor
Ryan Bowman is the voice of God, or at least he is this weekend in the Black History Month Production. Providing God’s voice is just one of his many roles.
Ryan, senior communication major from Orlando, Fla., said being the voice of God is his favorite role in the production.
“It’s kind of a humbling experience,” Ryan said, adding he finds it intimidating to place himself in that role.
The production is all about voice, however, as the theme is “Logos: That Which You Say, So Shall it Be,” and voices from the past will tell a story.
While he waited to go onstage to practice another role – this time as a father in the village scene – Ryan explained he also liked voicing God and thinks it is important to remember we are all God’s premiere creation.
“It’s not about race; it’s about grace,” he said.
Ryan wanders onstage, past two women who are running lines. They are convincing in their argument, but soon break into laughter, giving away how much they’re enjoying themselves. Later, Ryan sings into the microphone, entertaining the cast as the sound crew works on adjusting the microphones.
The cast is inarguably close-knit. After four months of practices, it’s understandable.
LaQuiera Gantt, ACU alumna (’04) and one of the associate producers, said she has been at practice until 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. every night. Alumna Camile Jackson (’06) has also returned to Essence of Ebony as an associate producer.
With the production at the end of this week, LaQuiera said it’s down to the details.
“The little things add up to a beautiful show,” she said.
And this show adds up to unity.
“It’s helping to build unity with Essence of Ebony and ACU,” LaQuiera said.
Monday night’s focus was the first act, bringing together the tech and backstage crews with the cast for the first time.
“This is going to be a night of extreme patience,” director Courtney Jackson warned the cast.
Before the group tackled the details, they formed a circle to sing a praise song and share prayer requests.
“We’ve got a very tall mountain to climb,” Courtney told the group. “But come Friday night, we’ll be at the top of that mountain.”
Courtney is an Essence of Ebony alumna and 2002 ACU graduate, and she returns this year not only to direct the production but also as its writer.
“The good thing about doing a show like this is that you’re basically just retelling stories,” Courtney said. “The stories are already out there about people who have influenced our past. It’s just taking those stories and reworking them to fit with the theme of the show. So really, I feel like even the end product isn’t my beginning it but other people beginning it.”
Courtney wrote the 10-scene show, which tells stories of familiar historical figures such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X and Jackie Robinson, along with lesser known people.
“Even the familiar ones kind of have a different angle,” Courtney said. “It’s taking the familiar and kind of putting a twist on it as well.”
For Courtney, the last week before the show is all about smoothing out the audio and other small details and spreading the word. Like any entertainer, Courtney said she hopes for a full house both nights.
Anna Peters is anticipating flying in the production. Buried under mountains of Greek homework at Monday’s run through of the production’s first act, Anna, junior youth and family ministry major from Houston, explained she and the other women in the plantation act will be wearing skirts with “wings” attached to them and will fly away to represent their hope of escaping.
“The music makes it powerful,” Anna said.
Like many participants in the production, Anna has several roles. She will also sing a duet, “We Haven’t Finished Yet,” and play the role of a prostitute.
Practicing her role has been fine, Anna said, but she is a little apprehensive about her costume as a prostitute.
“What am I going to be wearing? Is it going to be cold?” she asked, laughing.
Growing serious, Anna said the costume will probably help her feel more vulnerable, a feeling she said she has been considering a lot as she prepares to play the part of a prostitute and tries to image what that must be like.
Ultimately, she said she doesn’t mind feeling a little uncomfortable.
“It’s all about the play,” said Anna, who juggles rehearsals with her curfew as an R.A. in Nelson.
Anna isn’t the only one multi-tasking.
Tiffany Williams, sophomore social work major from Fort Worth, eats dinner while watching the rehearsal from backstage.
For her first time with the production, she has taken on a large role. Tiffany, a student director, is preparing to style hair, apply makeup and organize costumes for this weekend.
Each person should require about 10 minutes in wardrobe, Tiffany estimated.
Her biggest challenge is going to be hair, she said, because everyone’s hair type is different.
The plan, Tiffany said, is to style the difficult hairstyles on Thursday and maintain them Friday and Saturday to save time.
Stephanie Davis’ work is just beginning as well. As the assistant director of backstage, Stephanie, sophomore integrated marketing and communication major from Liberty, had to wait until the group moved onstage for rehearsal.
This is also Stephanie’s first year with the show, and she said she is working to ensure everything runs smoothly the night of the production. With 10 sets – and some scenes that require complete changes – she ought to stay busy.
Many singers are also extras in scenes, and Stephanie makes sure they appear onstage for each scene.
Sharde Henley, junior management major from Cypress, helps Stephanie backstage. On Monday, she assembled a cage that will be used in the last scene.
Sharde spent the last two Saturdays shopping for props. She said she rummaged through thrift stores, flea markets, Wal-Mart and storage from previous shows to gather the materials. Now, everything just has to come together.
Remel Derrick, musical director, gets a break while Courtney works with the actors, blocking out a scene.
Remel, senior music major from Cedar Hill, plays accompaniment on the piano during the songs, among them a Billie Holiday piece. He arranged two pieces for the production: the “Plantation Medley” and “Glory Hallelujah.”
Monday, his focus is directing the singers on where to stand and when to sing.
“The biggest challenge has probably been getting everybody together at the same time,” he said.
Performers are perfecting their memorization and growing slightly nervous about the performance, Remel said.
“I tell them, ‘hey, I have to do it,'” he said, laughing. “We don’t have anyone that’s completely nervous. I’m sure there will be little butterflies.”
One piece in the show has been performed in the past, and Remel said alumni from the past five or six years will be invited to participate.
“It’s going to be kind of nostalgic,” Remel said.
For a production that’s focusing on the power of voice, it seems only right that voices from its past should be honored as well.