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Performance of Civil War inspired play is Saturday

April 15, 2011
The Inter-Mountain

Voices from the Earth will premier a new work by artistic director and storyteller, Ilene Evans at 7 p.m. Saturday. The piece is called "Puzzle at Port Royal," and commemorates the 150 anniversary of the Civil War, the first in a five-part series.

Joining the VFTE Company in this production are Griot and storyteller Baba Jamal Koram; playwright and director Joey Madia; West Virginia University historian Connie Rice; Fairmont State University instructor Ironda Campbell, West Virginia Wesleyan College theater graduate Eddis Brown and the VFTE Youth Chamber Ensemble.

When asked, "Why Port Royal? Why the Civil War?" Evans responded, "In my years of work with the WV Humanities Council as Harriet Tubman, I could not help wondering what it was that she really did during the war. I wondered why she was singled out - an uneducated black woman - to help with strategy, reconnaissance and special operations for the Union Army. The more questions I asked, the more I found that she was a part of a great initiative that is not talked about very much. It was called the Port Royal Experiment. The region held by Union forces was under the direction of radical abolitionists. They wanted to use Port Royal as the testing grounds for uplifting newly freedmen and women to become educated, landowners and a self-sufficient people."

It also became the testing ground for African American Soldiers to prove their willingness to fight to save the Union and to secure their freedom. The hope of the Port Royal Experiment was that the effort would definitively prove the value that African Americans had to American society. The story of Harriet Tubman tells a great deal about black women's perceived roles nationally at the time of the Civil War and what they did to expand those expectations. Tubman's point of view represented many who viewed the Civil War not just a vehicle of freedom - but a means to earn real equality.

"Puzzle at Port Royal" is a storytelling/theater piece placed in historic region of Port Royal, South Carolina, and is based on the Civil War letters and journals of people who played a role in the historic journey of African Americans to citizenship in the United States. The integration and inclusion of people of African descent in the civil, social, economic, religious and political narratives of the American Civil War is rare. The story examines the steps that led to the formation of the United States Colored Troops, the inclusion of women in the medical field, the shifting of racial and gender stereotypes, the importance of landownership to self sufficiency and the equal treatment of all people under the law. The events that occurred in the Sea Islands of South Carolina, labeled the Port Royal Experiment, impacted every aspect of America's ongoing struggle for liberty, equality and justice.

Fact Box

If you go

What:?Puzzle at Port Royal the VFTE?Fundraiser Performance

When: Saturday at 7 p.m.

Where: Thomas Education Center in Thomas

Admission: Suggested donation of $25



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