AFTC’s “A Tribute To Paul Laurence Dunbar” A Surprising Success

A scene captured in “A Tribute to Paul Laurence Dunbar”

By Barney Blakeney

Art Forms & Theatre Concepts, Inc. has done it again! Writer and director, Art Gilliard, who founded the Lowcountry’s premier African American theater company has done an exemplary job weaving theater, song, history and culture into a one-act performance that tells the story of Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of America’s greatest writers, while showcasing the abilities of some of our community’s most talented artists.

AFTC held the opening performance of “A Tribute to Paul Laurence Dunbar” February 15 at Cannon Street Arts Center, 134 Cannon St. downtown Charleston. It was the company’s first performance in the converted church sanctuary that previously served the Zion Olivet Presbyterian Church congregation which now worships at 3347 Rivers Ave. in North Charleston. Other performances were Feb. 16 and 17. Coming performances are 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 and Feb. 23 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24.

The refreshingly short performance – one hour long – amazingly captures the essence of Dunbar’s works through acting, song and recitals masterfully woven into an often funny and insightfully historic tale performed by Ann Caldwell, Veronica Gailliard, Jacqueline Odom-Mickel, Keith H. Alston and Roy Gilliard.

The performance is set in the home of two sisters portrayed by Veronica Gailliard and Odom-Mickel. In the drama, the sisters are looking forward to a night on the town when a call shatters their plans. Determined to not waste a night, they decide to celebrate anyway in the comfort of their home. The arrival of several guests and their love of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s literature lead to the tribute that unfolds in the sisters’ living room.

In addition to notable hints at local Black History knitted into the dialogue written by Art Gilliard and set designed by Christopher Parker, the audience learns about Dunbar, an accomplished African American poet and novelist in the late 1800s, who published several literary works including six volumes of poetry before his untimely death at age 33.

In his closing remarks Gilliard noted that Dunbar’s focus on African-American accomplishments, pride and loyalty to the Black race helped set the stage for Harlem Renaissance poets 20 years after his death. It continues to influence contemporary American literature today like the AFTC’s 24-year ongoing mission to insure an African American presence on stage telling stories passionately, “As only we can,” Gilliard said. Retelling the stories of iconic figures in Black History such as Dunbar helps us not only to remember the history they created, but to know it, Gilliard said.

Tickets for the upcoming performances may be reserved by calling (843) 724-7305 or visiting Tickets are $24 for adults/$20 for seniors and students/plus applicable fees and are on sale now. The performance promises to entertain and enlighten. Tell a friend, bring a friend.

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