Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sandra Seaton's “The Will” at Idlewild: Classical Connections to African American Culture, May 31-June 1

[Prof. Sandra Seaton of Central Michigan University]

“The Will” at Idlewild: Classical Connections to African American Culture
will be presented at Idlewild Historical Museum and Cultural Center, 7025 Broadway Avenue, Idlewild, Michigan on Friday, May 30; Saturday, May 31; and Sunday, June 1, 2008.

Performance Times for Sandra Seaton's “The Will” are 8 pm Friday, May 30 and Saturday, May 31; and 2 pm Sunday, June 1.

Mini-Conference: 2:00 pm-5:00 pm Sunday, June 1.

Conference on African American Culture and Classical Music
Panel One:
Perspectives on the African American Presence in Opera during the Late 19th and Early 20th Century with Dr. Naomi Andre (panelists to be announced).
Panel Two:
Perspectives on Black Opera Singers and Performers in Classical Music Today; Aaron Dworkin, Celeste Headlee & George Shirley.

Youth Workshop and recitals throughout weekend

This Idlewild weekend will include the performance of The Will, Sandra Seaton’s play about an African American family during Reconstruction in Tennessee, a mini-conference on African Americans in classical music and opera, and an outreach directed especially to African American youth. The play offers both an interpretation of the significance of Reconstruction for African Americans and an interpretation of African American culture that brings out the place of classical music in African American history and life. The history of Reconstruction remains largely unknown and therefore often dominated by stereotypes about “scalawags,” “carpetbaggers,” and especially stereotypes about the ignorance and folly of African Americans. The story of families like the Webster family dramatized in The Will remains almost entirely untold. The father of the family, Cyrus Webster, is determined to pass on not only his worldly possessions but also his courage and wisdom to his descendants. One of Cyrus’s sons, Simpse, wants to marry Patti, a young woman determined to make a career as an opera singer. The character of Patti is based on the life of Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, known as “The Black Swan,” who became one of the most famous opera signers of her time, though she was born a slave.


Sandra Cecelia Seaton is a native of Columbia, Tennessee. She is a playwright and librettist who is a Professor of English on the faculty of Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Here is an excerpt from her website:

In January, 2005 her Reflections on the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. premiered at the Michigan State University Children’s Choir Black History Month Concert in the Great Hall of the Wharton Center for the Performing Arts. In March 2005 her play The Bridge Party, winner of the Theodore Ward Prize for African American Playwrights, was performed at Cleveland’s Karamu Theatre, the oldest African American theater company in the United States

Seaton has explored the relationship between the president [Thomas Jefferson] and Sally Hemings in a number of works. She first dramatized the relationship in her libretto for the song cycle From the Diary of Sally Hemings, a collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom, who set Seaton's text to music. The work, for voice and piano, recreates the thoughts and feelings of Sally Hemings throughout her long relationship with Thomas Jefferson by means of fictional diary entries. Seaton’s text presents Sally Hemings as a complex individual who refused to be defined only as Jefferson’s mistress. From The Diary of Sally Hemings, sung by mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar, premiered at the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress on March 16, 2001.

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