March 19, 2009

Williams Sisters featured in "Ain't I A Woman"

'Ain't I a woman'
Performance honors Civil Rights leaders and many talented women of color
By Claire Cox, Special to The Eagle

A play dedicated to a former slave who talked her way to racial equality more than 150 years ago will recognize women of color who have cracked the stained-glass ceiling to reach fame and fortune.The Women of Color Giving Circle, Youth Alive! and the Pittsfield Cultural Council will present "Ain't I a Woman?," a new community musical, at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 29, at Barrington Stage Company, as part of the Berkshire Festival of Women in the Arts and Women's History Month.

The 25-member cast of "Ain't I a Woman?" will fill the roles of heroines of the Civil Rights Movement, including singers, dancers, writers and pioneers in medicine, aeronautics and business. They will appear in a classroom setting created to educate young people about the civil rights movement.

The central character is Sojourner Truth, born in slavery in 1797 as Isabella Baumfree. After marrying and bearing 13 children, she walked to freedom in 1826. A religious conversion led her to adopt the name that is now on a postage stamp, on a bust in the National Capitol and on a statue in Florence, Mass.

While Harriet Tubman led 300 slaves to freedom on the underground railroad, Sojourner Truth was arguing for civil rights in speeches wherever she could be heard. The title of "Ain't I a Woman?" came from a speech she gave in which she declared: "Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place, and ain't I a woman?"

The volunteer actors were gathered from Pittsfield, Great Barrington, Stockbridge and Boston. Among the characters they will portray are Marian Anderson, the contralto who sang at the Lincoln Memorial after being shunned by the Daughters of the American Revolution; Ella Fitzgerald, "the first lady of scat"; Elizabeth Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman airplane pilot; Madame C.J. Walker, a millionaire businesswoman; the tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams and Althea Gibson; Dancer Katherine Dunham; activist Elizabeth Freeman, Rosa Parks and women known and unknown in other fields of endeavor.

Elaine Gunn, a member of a prominent Great Barrington African-American family and a supporter of the Women of Giving Circle, will narrate the 90-minute one-act play, accompanied by songs and other music associated with some of the characters.

"Many young people don't know that American history is about all of us," Edgerton said. "We are all interconnected by history — black, Native-American, white, and so on. Young people don't appreciate what we have."

What: 'Ain't I a Woman'
A play celebrating women of color and their accomplishments

When: Sunday, March 29

Where: Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield

Admission: $12 for adults and $7 for students and seniors

Tickets: Barrington Stage box office, www.barringtonstageco.org
or (413) 236-8888

Information: (413) 841-8770

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