Women’s History Month Program at Museum
READERS’ THEATER PLAY TELLS FASCINATING STORY OF NATION’S FIRST PUBLISHED AFRICAN AMERICAN POET
“She came on a slave ship carrying the mind of a genius.”— from Sacred Fire: Phillis Wheatley and Her Friends
During Women’s History Month, the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh will present a readers’ theater play written by award-winning poet and playwright Rudy Wallace. The play Sacred Fire: Phillis Wheatley and Her Friends tells the poignant story of the nation’s first published African American poet.
Born in Senegal, Africa, in 1753 or 1754, Wheatley was enslaved at age seven and purchased by the John Wheatley family of Boston. The Wheatleys accepted her as a family member and taught her to read and write. They encouraged her creativity, which led to her poetic success.
Sacred Fire: Phillis Wheatley and Her Friends reveals her life through the words of those who knew her. The dramatization, performed by the Raleigh theater company Voices in Concert, will take place Friday, March 5, from 7 to 9 p.m. The cast includes local professional actors with credits nationally. A readers’ theater play is a new dramatic concept. It is a polished presentation in which a script is rehearsed before it is read before an audience.
Admission is $5 for adults and free for ages 12 and under.
To register in advance, call 919-807-7992.
Tickets can be purchased the night of the event in the Museum Shop.
Wheatley’s first poetry book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published in 1773 in London. Here, she met the Lord Mayor of London and other significant members of British society. Shortly after her trip to England, she was emancipated from slavery as a result of her popularity and influence as a poet. Another factor was pressure on the Wheatley family from abolitionists and upper-class British socialites who were sympathetic to the cause.
In 1775 Wheatley published the poem “To his Excellency General Washington.” In 1776 the nation’s first president invited her to his home to thank her. Thomas Jefferson published the poem in the Pennsylvania Gazette.
Wheatley was married to John Peters, a free black grocer. The couple faced poor living conditions and the deaths of two children. As a result of these setbacks, along with the effects of the Revolutionary War and her loss of patrons after her emancipation, Wheatley was unable to publish another volume of poetry.
Playwright Rudy Wallace
Wallace’s plays have been staged in North Carolina, throughout the United States and in the Caribbean, as well as off-Broadway. Sacred Fire: Phillis Wheatley and Her Friends is part of a trilogy of slavery-era dramas that include Hard Time Days: Voices From the Praying Ground and Far From Home: The Travels of Frederick Douglass.
The Cast of Sacred Fire
Lester Hill — A veteran performer from New York City, his work includes “As the World Turns,” “General Hospital” and the Discovery Channel series “The Prosecutors.” He has appeared in numerous plays in New York City and North Carolina.
Joan J. — With many credits nationally and internationally, she has performed locally with Burning Coal Theater, PlayMakers Repertory Company at UNC-Chapel Hill, Manbites Dog Theater, University Theater at N.C. Central University, and Raleigh Little Theater, where she received two awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Jade Arnold — The Durham native’s credits include Hair, 1960 and Raisin in the Sun.
Cindy Hopedales — Currently the choral director at New Hanover High School in Wilmington, her favorite theatrical roles include Charlene in Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Deena in Dreamgirls.
For more information, call 919-807-7900 or access ncmuseumofhistory.org or Facebook®. The museum is located at 5 E. Edenton St., across from the State Capitol. Parking is available in the lot across Wilmington Street.
The N.C. Museum of History’s hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is part of the Division of State History Museums, Office of Archives and History, an agency of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. The department’s Web site is www.ncculture.com.
See the exhibit In Search of a New Deal: Images of North Carolina, 1935–1941. For details, go to ncmuseumofhistory.org.