As part of a theatrical scholarship funded by the Sills Family Endowed Fellowship, Shaamar Samuel ’19, Jesse Singleton ’19 and Christopher Williams ’19 will debut their monologue show “From the Ground Up” on Friday, June 16 at 7 p.m. in Williams Hall. The show, written and performed entirely by the three Hobart students, explores how men of color experience issues of identity, mental health and tolerance while paying homage to artists of the Harlem Renaissance and storytellers who followed.
“Shaamar, Jesse and Chris are exploring the ground on which they stand as emerging artists,” says Assistant Professor of Theatre Chris Woodworth. “Having worked with each of them in different classes, what unites all of them is the lyricism of their writing and their insatiable curiosity not just within theatre, but within history as well.”
For Singleton, the poems of Langston Hughes sparked inspiration in dissecting issues of identity in his performance. His work questions “the way in which we view ourselves versus how others view us and how society, culture and perception shape identity.”
Singleton, a theatre major, never imagined that theatre would become a key passion at HWS, but found that his love for sports made the discipline compatible with his interests. “The similarities of sports and theater appealed to me: having a team, going through the good and the bad together and going out to perform,” says Singleton, who is also a member of the Phoenix Players.
Like Singleton, Samuel was inspired by the work of Hughes, as well as Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls and Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis. Kane’s work on mental health inspired Samuels’ interpretation of the topic. “The monologue highlights the necessity of talking about those issues, especially for people of color since mental health isn’t discussed as publicly in the community,” says Samuels, a history major who is also completing the Teacher Education Certification Program.
Woodworth encouraged Williams to pursue the fellowship after he enrolled in a theatre class during his first-year just to try it, only to immerse himself in the discipline. Williams’ monologue, inspired by A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, explores how one reconciles racial bias with self-acceptance.
For Williams, collaborating with Samuel and Singleton has been the most rewarding aspect of the fellowship. “Working with the guys and developing ideas together has been incredible. It was wonderful to see three perspectives come together in one room in less than 30 minutes,” says the political science and theatre major, who starred in the spring production Etymology of Bird.
The Sills fellows will continue to develop their performance through the next academic year, collaborating with students and holding additional performances. This summer they are also participating in the Playwrights of Color Summit, hosted by New York City’s Quick Silver Theatre Company.
“Art moves social justice work beyond the intellectual realm,” Woodworth says. “Tackling matters of identity and social justice through theatre offers a visceral experience for the audience. Liveness and the co-presence of actors and audience in the same space brings together all of the senses, opening up empathy as an embodied experience for the spectator.”
The Sills Family Endowed Fellowship was created to provide support for experiential learning and the completion of a special academic project to Hobart and William Smith students working in partnership with the Colleges’ faculty.