Date(s) & Time(s)::
February 2, 2013 at 2:00 PM until 3:00 PM
Location: 46-48 Willow Street Johnson City, NY 13790
Sunjata Kamalenya, a story of family, strength and prophecy
comes to the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage
Johnson City – As part of their Tall Tales series, The Goodwill Theatre will present an interactive musical storytelling drama entitled Sunjata Kamalenya - Saturday, February 2nd at 2 p.m. at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage in honor of Black History month. Goodwill Theatre’s Music Hall Series is sponsored by Floyd’s Rent All in Endwell, NY.
This play was ﬁrst presented as a rehearsed reading in May 2010, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as part of New Visions/New Voices. Both parents and children are encouraged to participate in the show. The audience will be configured in a circle with the actors so they can dance, sing, and act their way through a journey deep into the Mandé tradition in a performance created especially for them with a company of American and African actors, dancers, and musicians. Traditional music, costumes, and scenery whisk the audience to a village compound where the storyteller guides them to 13th century Mali. Audiences have a unique experience that celebrates the spirit of determination and the love of family in the face of seemingly-impossible odds.
“We wanted to offer a very entertaining and enlightening show in celebration of Black History month,” says CEO Naima Kradjian, “this show touches on so many important 21st century themes and challenges and yet it is an ancient tale from a foreign land. It underscores the universal nature of theatre and how we can all learn from both new and old stories.” adds Kradjian.
Sunjata Kamalenya (translated: Sunjata for Youth), is a new completely-interactive production created by the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ. that chronicles the struggles of a boy destined to be the leader of the Mande people of West Africa. The Mandé epic has been passed on through oral tradition for more than seven centuries among many different and diverse families throughout West Africa. Despite the power of the prophecy of a child born to rule, it takes seven long years for Sogolon Condé to give birth to Sunjata. Sansouma Bereté, the angry and jealous first wife, refuses to celebrate the birth of the promised hero and uses her powers of sorcery to twist and malform the infant Sunjata’s legs. Sunjata grows and faces years of bullying from the children of the village, including harassment from his own half-brother, Dankaran Touman. Despite his maltreatment, and although he thinks terrible thoughts about the children who taunt him, Sunjata never fights back or lashes out. He later returns to his homeland after the spell is broken and finds the strength his mother provided him to protect his family.
The story of Sunjata has been passed on through the oral tradition of the djeli (griot or historic storyteller) for the past eight centuries. It has never been written down by any African historian and until 1960 had never been put down on paper by anyone. The only somewhat contemporary written account of Sunjata comes from Arabian Scholars who visited the Mali Empire in the 14th century and interacted with some of Sunjata’s ancestors. In the last ﬁfty years various westerners have been privileged to audio record the epic being recited in Homeric fashion over the course of several days. These ethnologists have then transcribed and translated the recording into various languages including English and as such there are about a dozen Sunjata translations that exist in
print today. The version of the Sunjata epic that served as the basis for this production is that of djeli Tassey Condé, a descendent of Sunjata’s mother Sogolon Condé. This performance was transcribed and edited by David Conrad, who serves as Historical Consultant for this production.
What made this version so appealing to the McCarter Theatre is that it beautifully highlighted the importance of familial relationships in the Mandé culture and the power of female inﬂuence in a physically male-centric society. The ﬁrst half of the play follows the struggles of Sunjata’s mother and the adversity she had to endure just to bring him into this world and protect him as a small child. It was important to create a play with strong female characters, and Tassey Condé’s version highlighted many important inﬂuential women in their world.
The play also features many songs that have been passed through oral historians in the Mandé region for the past 800 years. Throughout the course of the play audience members are taught some of the songs and are invited to sing or dance along with the performers. There are also dozen of Bambara language phrases and words interspersed into the play, many of which are translated and audience members are invited to say aloud with the cast, including “namu” which is a word of affirmation akin to amen or “I agree.” When a djeli tells the story of Sunjata in Mali or Guinea or the surrounding areas, there is also a “namu-sayer,” who serves as a supporter for the djeli declaring “namu” in varying tones according to his emotional response to the story being told.
Dyane Harvey, renowned dancer and choreographer/co-founder of Forces of Nature Dance Theater Company whose mission includes “the empowerment of people of color,” is the choreographer for Sunjata Kamalenya. Dyane’s choreography is founded upon traditional West African dance and blends authenticity with a very kid-friendly approach that gets the audience up and dancing very quickly.
Zenzelé Cooper, last seen in The Body Washer (Rapscallion Theatre Collective, NYC), Zenzelé Cooper recently completed an international tour with the Blessed Unrest Theater Company in Doruntine, the first US-Kosovar theater collaboration. Her other adventures include Trojan Women (The Classical Theatre of Harlem, NYC), The Comedy of Errors (The American Globe Theatre, NYC) and The Illusion (The Berkshire Theatre Festival, MA). Zenzelé was born in Harrisburg, PA and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Rutgers University.
Tickets for Sunjata Kamalenya are $15 for adults and $10 for senior citizens, students and children. Reservations, and information on all shows, are available by calling the Goodwill Theatre Box Office at (607) 772-2404, ext. 301. You can also purchase tickets on their website: www.goodwilltheatre.net. Tickets, if still available, will also be sold at the door, one hour before show time.
The Schorr Family Firehouse Stage, located at 46-48 Willow Street in Johnson City, accepts cash, checks and all major credit cards. Doors open approximately one hour before show time. General Seating is based on a first-come; first-served policy. Refreshments will be available for sale.
The Schorr Family Firehouse Stage is the first performance venue of the Goodwill Theatre Performing Arts Complex & Professional Training Facility. It is located on the corner of Corliss Avenue and Willow Street in Johnson City. Patrons are advised to enter the facility through the parking lot on Corliss Avenue. Parking is available in a small lot at the theatre, and a new lot along the side of the building, on-street, and in various Village municipal lots within two blocks of the theatre. For more information, interested persons can contact the Goodwill Theatre Box Office at (607) 772-2404, ext. 301, or visit: www.goodwilltheatre.net
Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. The event grew out of the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history. http://www.history.com/topics/black-history-month