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Lacresha Berry as Harriet Tubman: San Diego International Fringe Festival 2017

July 6, 2017

San Diego Fringe Festival International just completed its 5th year with local, national and international performers presenting their traveling shows to our very appreciative city. Fringe romped through our consciousness from June 22 through July 2nd. With a total of seventeen sites including a Family Fringe at the City Heights Performance Annex http://sdfringe.org/

Actress/educator Lacresha Berry and blogger Delores Fisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The City Heights Performance Annex with its indoor and outdoor stage areas, Fringe venue/space #17,  is well-known to most San Diegans in that area. Located on the crossroads of a culturally diverse neighborhood, the City Heights Performance Annex is respected for its embracing of the arts with innovative professional and amateur shows, school ensemble programs, dance festivals, entertainment representative of its surrounding rich cultural heritages. So are two other venues several miles away near Balboa Park. Fringe Space#7 Centro Cultural De La Raza and The World Beat Center Fringe space #8.

Here’s my World Beat Center Fringe space #8 experience.

Delores Fisher (selfie time!!) at San Diego Fringe Festival International 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last weekend, I notice the show “Harriet Tubman” is billed as a re-imagining of the life of anti-slavery activist; it’s playing one of my favorite San Diego world music spots, the World Beat Center. However, I  decide to go see “Kathleen Denny’s Nice Is Not What I Do”  at the Centro Cultural De La Raza and wait another week to see “Harriet Tubman.”

Curious as to what a re-imagining would look like, I buy my ticket and sit down. I am immediately aware of an anxious energy among audience members. The air is crackling with expectation. About five minutes later, a young African American woman in simple attire, white T-shirt, headband, jeans and tennis shoes, walks across the stage before house lights dim.

Lacresha Berry as Harriet Tubman at San Diego World Beat Center

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She takes her place at a microphone and waits for the house lights to go dark and the audience to stop talking. The lights go dark too quickly. The audience,  still buzzing,  becomes quiet. Lacresha has taken her mark on stage, waiting for almost two minutes  in an awkward silence. Then, lights go fast up, Berry pauses and dives hesitantly into an almost frantic monologue. Something is amiss. Who’s on tech?????? A clumsiness of house lights and sound in the opening scenes tempt me to excuse myself and leave. Berry keeps on.

Suddenly, resolutely, her pace relaxes and yet goes taunt at the same time. It feels as if a tightrope artist is battling unseen elements fifty feet above ground.

Then, I see it, that shimmering light, genius and experience,  tenacity and intuitive grit to get one’s voice, one’s message out to the people; Berry, a seasoned, well prepared performer, glimmers above apparent ill-timed lighting and sound cues for the rest of the show. I decide to stay. I’m glad I did. Ms. Berry’s acting and singing is nuanced and at times electrifying.

Berry situates Harriet Tubman in socio-cultural parameters that many young Black girls face today; this narrative strategy divides the play into major sections with several subsection of different characters. She even re-imagines Tubman in the foster care system, placed into the home of a wise care provider, Mama Kit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The young actress’s portrayal of mercurial Harriet Tubman intertwines with her portrayal of a twenty-first century young Black girl who has Harriet Tubman’s childhood and adolescent personality.

Lacresha Berry’s premise is intriguing. Without the romanticized notions of nostalgic history, spotlighted within today’s educational philosophies and biases toward non-compliant young Black female searching for freedom to be who dream themselves into being, beyond preconceived racialized gender narratives—Harriet Tubman might easily be labeled a highly problematic student.

Lacresha Berry as Harriet Tubman in the 21st century

 

In addition, some things come easy to her, others are difficult to learn. She lashes out in frustration. She challenges authority. She has an oppositional personality. She hears voices. She is in special education classes. Let’s be honest, a child or adolescent Black girl in today’s twenty first century society, with Tubman’s unpredictability, she WOULD be in special classes with an IEP.

Through various scenes,   characters, and songs, the audience experiences an illuminating roller coaster ride examining Harriet Tubman from different perspectives, embedded in a multi-lens educational narrative.

Berry has done her research; she uses quotes from leading educational specialists to bring academic substance to her performative narrative, encouraging us to think:what if?

Berry as Tubman re-imagine

 

 

During the Epilogue, Berry allows her audience to consider how past systemic barriers that are historically romanticize can breathe oppression into our contemporary lived-experiences. We must be willing to reflect on and create alternative future narratives based on our past and present in an ongoing expansion of hard won freedom.

Lacresha Berry as Tubman, a poignant reflective monologue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other educators in the audience felt a distinct resonance, as Afrofuturist Lacresha Berry, in a Stuart Hall sense, “speaks of truth to power.”

Lacresha Berry and international educator Fannie Garvey

 

If and when this show comes to your city–go see “Harriet Tubman” with Berry. Art at times can interrogate those slippery/dry places of reason and systems, hegemony and obtuse projections toward equity. This show is one of those times.

 

Berry and Pasadena Talk Show Host Debra SMILElady Johnson after show

 

Musewoman, Delores Fisher

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