There is great power in a solo performance, when an actor can hold the stage and hold our attention, telling a story through language or movement, while we watch in rapt silence. Actor, director, producer, and writer Thomas Robert Simpson believes in that power and uses it to communicate the black experience in America by producing his yearly AfroSolo Arts Festival. This year's seventh-annual program has already included a community forum on AIDS, an all-day series of arts workshops, a visual arts exhibition, and a young performers' spotlight show. This week features five nights of monologues, dance, and music, peaking in a grand gospel climax, with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mavis Staples paying tribute in story and song to her mentor, Mahalia Jackson.
The festival is organized into two lineups. Program A includes Spirit: A Promise of Flesh Transcended in Three Movements and Two Rests, a movement-and-sound meditation on inner conflict by Opal Venus Reese; Untitled, San Francisco Ballet's Chidozie Nzerem in Robert Henry Johnson's exploration of African-American culture through classical dance; There Is No Hatred Here, Thomas Robert Simpson's drama about the evolution of a black militant during the civil rights movement; and Alison Wright's And You Can't Make Me, a biographical study of cross-dressing blues icon Gladys Bently.
Program B includes The Black Women Did It,Awele's performance highlighting the role black women played in the Montgomery bus boycott; I Didn't Know Billy, Cedric Brown's study of self-determination through the story of composer and musician Billy Strayhorn; and Gaidi Nkruma's More Than I Could Handle, the story of the effects of violence on three generations of a black family.