Juneteenth Legacy Theatre keeps on jammin’

Imani: (a.k.a. Lena Charles) contributed several pieces to this year’s “Juneteenth Jamboree of New Plays.”

Imani: (a.k.a. Lena Charles) contributed several pieces to this year’s “Juneteenth Jamboree of New Plays.”

I’ve never met Lorna Littleway, the founder and producing director of the Juneteenth Legacy Theatre, but I feel like I know her from our many telephone conversations. Her wisdom, wit and flair are captivating, and I always feel energized and bold after our contact.

The Juneteenth Jamboree of New Plays is an emulation of the original Juneteenth celebrations. Incredibly, long after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, slavery continued without opposition in Texas. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers finally arrived in Galveston with the news that the Civil War had ended and slaves were free. Why it took so long for this important news to reach Texas is mired in mystery. Some say the original messenger was murdered on his way to Texas. Others say plantation owners deliberately withheld the news to keep their labor force intact. In what sounds like a conspiracy theory, some speculate that federal troops turned a blind eye so that one last cotton crop could be harvested. All or none of these theories could be true. For whatever reason, Texans shamefully flouted the law for two and a half years (and it seems to be a tradition carried on by certain modern Texans who shall remain nameless).

The original celebrations spread throughout the country as former slaves moved off the plantation to find their families and build lives of freedom. The celebration grew each year, and was a time of prayer and gathering of remaining family members. Celebrants focused on education and self-improvement. They brought in guest speakers and elders who told stories of the past. After the 10-day celebration, people spread the word.

Likewise, Littleway emphasizes the kinship of the Juneteenth Jamboree to these early celebrations. The festival contains storytelling and gives thanks for emancipation, and includes songs associated with slavery, fugitivism and freedom. Also, Littleway and Imani (pen name Lena Charles, artistic director of the Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art in New York) offer arts workshops for playwrights, directors and actors, where you can develop your own one-character play and take control of your career. These workshops are limited to 10 participants. As for spreading the word, Littleway says people will be passing out leaflets in front of Borders.

Each program has its own theme. “Red” celebrates images of women, the “Black” theme is indigenous African-American music and “Blue” focuses on Kentucky authors. The Black program includes spirituals and music from past festivals, “Midnight Special,” a staged reading of a play by J. Rufus Caleb about the famous blues artist Leadbelly. “Snow” by Lena Charles is about jazz trumpeter Valaida Snow, caught in the Holocaust of WWII. Littleway told me that “Midnight Special” was submitted two years ago, but didn’t fit the previous festival themes. When “Snow” came in, she knew it had found a partner.
Here’s a quick rundown of the festival:

*Guest artists: Nora Cole and Imani

June 1:
• “Voices of the Spirit in My Soul” by Nora Cole, directed by Imani, 8 p.m.: Based on family letters and photographs, creator Nora Cole, acclaimed Broadway actress and Louisville native, conjures and inhabits the spirits of her maternal enslaved and free ancestors in Kentucky.
• 43rd Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians Poster Unveiling, 9:30 p.m.

June 2:
• Creating Your Own One Character Play Workshop with Imani and Lorna Littleway, 5:30 p.m.
• “Olivia’s Opus” by Nora Cole, directed by Imani, 8 p.m.: Through the personages of Olivia Bradford Long and her alter ego, Farina, Cole tells her coming-of-age story growing up in Louisville during the turbulent 1950s and ’60s.

*Guest artists: Nora Cole and Imani

June 8:
• “DARASA: A Civil Rights Tribute in Song,” 8 p.m.: Spirituals and inspirational music from past Juneteenth Jamboree plays are presented.
• “Midnight Special” by J. Rufus Caleb, 9:15 p.m.

June 9:
• Workshop, 5:30 p.m.
• “Snow” by Lena Charles, 8 p.m.

*Guest producer: Kristi Papailler

June 15:
• “A Little Chat With God” by Lorna Littleway, 8 p.m.: An experimental dance-theater work that examines a young woman’s attempt to negotiate, with the Creator, the time and conditions of her death.
• “Sweetwater” by Gertrude Eena Woods, 9 p.m.: A story about Louisiana lovers who discover that forgiveness of past disappointments must precede a new love, and who find redemption at the proverbial crossroads.

June 16:
• Workshop, 5:30 p.m.
• “The Moon Sees Somebody” by Mike Moore, 8 p.m.: Based on a true incident that happened to Moore’s father in 1938, while attending Lexington’s Henry Clay High School, this play is about a football rivalry between all-white and all-black schools and how two students from each develop a relationship that moves from antagonism and mutual prejudice to inclusiveness and mutual respect.

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