An empty stage is like a barren field. In order for that field to become bountiful, it needs to be planted, nurtured and harvested. Similarly, a stage needs energy, vision and passion to come to life. When wedded with a purpose, a stage performance can become fertile ground that can feed and empower others.
When faced with the facts that so few people are aware of the powerful stories of African-Americans and that there are a paucity of theatrical performances about African-Americans, one woman decided to turn her stage into a platform to not only educate and entertain, but to transform the lives of those in attendance.
Theatre for Transformation (TFT) is a seed that was first planted by Dr. Amanda Kemp in 2007. The college professor and playwright founded TFT because she “wanted to raise the consciousness and amount of light we could convey to the world. My calling is to use theatre to shift attitudes and to transform what people think is possible. TFT’s mission is to perform African American stories that inspire learning and racial harmony amongst diverse audiences.”
Since its inception, Theatre for Transformation has touched over 10,000 people, mostly young audiences in schools and community settings. Primarily a touring company, the group performs meticulously researched historical productions about the enslaved people in Benjamin Franklin’s household; Phillis Wheatley, the first African American to publish a book; and other historical figures that are often elided in America’s historical narrative.
Blending the world of theatre with that of history creates a unique space where audiences are enlightened and inspired. Stories of determination, fortitude and perseverance are told from the vantage point of African American figures. Sharing these narratives with younger generations has opened a door for much needed dialogue about the vestigial effects of America’s early history.
Currently, the main stage show for TFT is called Emancipation Sweet. The new, original play will be presented at the Philadelphia Fringe Fest in September. The play’s title character is a thirteen-year old African American boy who loves basketball, but hates history.
Named for the Proclamation, Emancipation is pulled back in time by a bitter old man who forces him to experience the 1963 March on Washington, the 1913 Emancipation Exposition in New York, and the 1863 celebration in Washington, D.C. African drumming, jazz, spirituals, ragtime and European classical music fuel Emancipation on his journey to true freedom.
Like the young protagonist in the play, Dr. Kemp hopes that more young people will open themselves up to thinking critically and not simply following in the prescribed footsteps of others. She tells young people everywhere to “follow your passion and be willing to be disciplined about growing in your chosen field. The world does not need one more person who hates her job or who hides who she really is for 8-10 hours a day. The world needs people who are living their passions.”
Dr. Kemp would know, the mother of two is following her dreams and she hopes that Theatre for Transformation will encourage others to do the same. For more information, please see: www.theatrefortransformation.org or watch a filmed version of her plays on YouTube.