Reflections on "Portrait of a Dreamer"
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 11, 2013 14:02
In every American history class, students learn about the civil rights movement and a man- Martin Luther King, Jr. They listen to the renowned “I Have a Dream” speech. They hear how King brought change for an entire race of people and helped them gain equality. What most students don’t have the chance to do is experience the struggles and triumphs that took place almost 60 years ago.
As part of UNCW’s MLK Celebration 2013, artist-in-residence actor and educator Ron Dortch, along with the Upperman Center, presented "Portrait of a Dreamer" Thursday night. Audience members watched the events of the civil rights movement unfold on stage through theatrical and musical performances, thanks to the collaboration of Dortch, director Teresa Davis, and composer Nkeiru Okoye.
Dortch played King, while UNCW students performed supporting roles. One of the student-actors was theatre major Tomasina Hill, who played a protestor that encouraged others to stop riding buses. The performance was very meaningful to Hill as an actress.
“Being a theatre major, I was happy to be a part of a production that had a black cast ‘cause that’s so rare here,” Hill said.
Parts of “Dreamer” were spoken, while others were musical numbers. Student Janessa Robinson sang religious African slave songs known as “Negro Spirituals.”
The production took Robinson back in time.
“I was not expecting it to be so real,” said Robinson. “[Dortch] made me feel [like] I was a part of it.”
Part of what brought the production to life for younger audience members was that many other audience members had lived through, and contributed to, the civil rights movement. A woman sitting behind Robinson quoted speeches along with Dortch as he recited them onstage.
The cast interacted with the audience, bringing them into the time period further. It was a sold-out performance, with a racially diverse crowd. Robinson appreciated the turnout.
“To see them embracing our culture as well makes me feel like I’m not necessarily alone,” Robinson said. “They can relate, not necessarily to what I’ve been through, but they can understand what my people have been through.”
President Obama’s inauguration coincided with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year. Part of the President’s speech was included in the production. Student Isaiah Surles, who also sang in the performance, commented on what that meant.
“It was kind of like ‘Look where we started, look at all the work we put in, and look at what we achieved,’” Surles said. “Throughout all the hard work and all the things we had to go through, we still overcame and it was really inspiring.”
"Portrait of a Dreamer" was a great way to celebrate the successes African Americans have achieved in the last 60 years. But according to student-actor Odua Acquuah, there is still more that needs to happen.
“Still today, there are people who don’t have equal rights,” Acquuah said. “We can fight for the future.”
Acquuah hopes her children and grandchildren will continue to make sure that all are equal.
Janessa Robinson saw last night as a means of education, both for her and for others.
“It gave me a greater sense of how I should handle things and not be so judgmental towards people who don’t necessarily understand what I’ve been through and kind of give them insight without making them feel horrible for something they don’t know,” said Robinson.
And that’s what "Portrait of a Dreamer" was able to do for many audience members.
“[Martin Luther King, Jr.] was like us, but his purpose was to lead us into a better future that we, as college students, and people growing up behind us, can continue to grow forward,” Robinson said.
After last night’s production, many will now go out to do so