By Kathryn Kopchik
LEWISBURG, Pa. — The Griot Institute for Africana Studies at Bucknell University will present the theatre performance and discussion, "Sally: A Montage," Wednesday, April 18, at 7:30 p.m. in the Terrace Room of the Elaine Langone Center at Bucknell.
The performance, which is free and open to the public, is the closing event in the spring lecture series, "Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: An American Origin Story, Interdisciplinarily Considered."
"The final iteration of the series is a devised performance and original intermedia piece, directed by Bob Gainer, professor emeritus of theatre at Bucknell," said Carmen Gillespie, director of the Griot Institute and professor of English at Bucknell.
The multimedia performance distills elements from the play "Sally" by Sandra Seaton, the Madison Hemings' "Memoirs," the soundscape and film "American Cypher: A Stereo Helix for Sally Hemings" by Mendi + Keith Obadike, and the opera "Sally Hemings Wakes" by Garrett Fisher.
The montage features Shara McCallum, associate professor of English and director of the Stadler Center for Poetry, as well as Bucknell faculty and staff members John Hunter, associate professor of comparative humanities; Ghislaine McDayter, professor of English; Shallary Duncan, staff psychologist with Psychological Services; Mark Hutchinson, technical director with the Department of Theatre and Dance; and Nisan Trotter.
"One of the aspects of the production that is particularly intriguing to me is the opportunity to catalyze creative exploration of the topic by faculty and staff who do not primarily consider themselves performing artists," said Gillespie.
"This production is a joint endeavor of the Griot Institute and the Presidential Arts Initiative and, as such, endeavors to explore artistry and creativity for everyone. The class we sponsored last semester, Extreme Creativity, allowed students who are arts and non-arts majors to examine the arts and their engagements with creativity.
"The Arts Initiative seeks in part to involve the entirety of the Bucknell community in the arts. The 'Sally: A Montage' performance, with the exception of Mark Hutchinson, involves faculty and staff who are not performers and allows them to access creative aspects of themselves in ways that mirror the experiences of the students in the Extreme Creativity class.
"I hope that it will be motivating for students to have the opportunity to see their professors and staff members engaged in taking chances and expanding their creative horizons in unexpected and challenging ways," she said.
Following the performance, playwright Sandra Seaton will reflect on her experiences imagining Sally Hemings dramatically during a question-and-answer period with audience members.
Seaton also will participate in a lunch discussion, "The intersections between art and history," at noon on April 18 in the C. Willard Smith Library of the Vaughan Literature Building at Bucknell. Seaton is the librettist for the operatic song-cycle, "The Diary of Sally Hemings."
The Griot series examined various narratives about the Hemings/Jefferson affair in terms of their historical and contemporary resonances and significances. Although the assertion remains controversial centuries after it was originally made public, most contemporary historians concur that the preponderance of evidence suggests that Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings had seven children over the course of a 38-year involvement. In 1998, DNA tests supported the allegation, yet the story remains the subject of debate.
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