Monday, June 22, 2020

Eric Conway: WBAL-TV: Remembering a giant: Morgan State, theatre community mourns Shirley Basfield Dunlap

Dr. Shirley Basfield Dunlap
(Morgan State University)

Dr. Eric Conway writes:

Link to WBAL-TV article about the life of Shirley Basfield Dunlap!



Tramon Lucas

June 22, 2020

 Before she arrived at Morgan State University from New York, Francina Smith knew she wanted to study theater at a historically Black college or university.
"I wanted to study theater because I looked at every person I considered a great and I was like 'I have to learn theater, this is their foundation,'" Smith said.
Her quest set her on the path to not only Morgan State, but to a woman who would expose her to more than one avenue in the realm of theater arts and who she would go on to consider her "artistic mom." That woman was Shirley Basfield Dunlap, the coordinator of Theatre Arts at the university.
"She lit a fire inside of me once I entered into the program. She demanded excellence. There was no room for halfway stepping, especially me being a Black girl from New York, you know, that's the same type of girl she was -- a Black girl, from New York and she knew she had a place in theater and in the arts in general," Smith said.
Dunlap died last Monday. Her cause of death was not announced, but when the news of her death spread, former students, colleagues, supporters and so many more expressed their condolences, filling her Facebook page with fond memories and a respect to her craft, acknowledging the impact she had on the theater world.
Dunlap, who left Morgan State in 1995 and returned in 2003, directed a number of productions across the country such as August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play "Fences," "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," "Fortinbras," "The Medea Myth" and "Shirley Valentine."
Baltimore Center Stage tweeted the following on Dunlap's passing: "We're sad to hear of the passing of Shirley Basfield Dunlap. Her impact on the Baltimore theater community has been great. At @MorganStateU, she served as the Coordinator of Theater Arts, where she served as a mentor to many young artists. We will miss you, Shirley."
With her experience, Dunlap helped her students see the importance in becoming storytellers, which went into her legacy at Morgan State.
"Her legacy means truth to Morgan because she was very adamant about telling the truth about Black lives -- about lives and humanity in general, but specifically about Black lives and how it was beautiful," Smith said. "Ms. Dunlap is Morgan's legacy. She's the magic of Morgan's legacy. She is the griot of Morgan's legacy."
Eric Conway, chairperson Fine & Performing Arts Department at Morgan State, also talked about Dunlap's legacy, describing her as a leader on campus, who demanded excellence from her students.
"She was the personification of Theatre Morgan. She was in the first graduating theater arts class at Morgan State University," Conway said.
"She helped craft the current curriculum, making it as comprehensible a theater program as we have in the state of Maryland, so that will be part of her legacy," Conway said. "And if she believed in her students, there's no telling how far she would go for her students. She would give the world to her students if she thought you were worth it."

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