|Article by Ogova Ondego
Published December 2, 2007
What do the cotton plantations of the USA’s Mississippi Delta and their sugar cane counterparts in the Caribbean have in common? Both regions not only used black slaves but also became the cradle of music genres like Blues, Calypso, Soca, Spouge, Ska and Reggae. An American academic, Cassie Sade Turnipseed, who sets out to theatrically present the correlation between cotton and sugar cane plantations discovers that the same parallel universes exist in the world where struggle for hope, freedom and dignity were in any way impacted by the African slave trade. It is the same story, but different characters.
During a two-week writer-in-residence stay at the University of West Indies’ Cave Hill campus in Barbados, Turnipseed, director of education and community outreach at BB King Museum and Delta Interpretive Centre, conducted a writing workshop and Blues research experiment with the aim of producing a one-act play (poetrical) that hinged on the Caribbean interpretation of the Blues.
Participants were professors, technicians and under-graduate students from the University’s recently opened Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination.
The outcome, says Turnispeed, “was a riveting multi-media theatrical production entitled ‘Sugar Pain Blues.’
“This was the inaugural workshop for the Errol Barroll Centre for Creative Imagination,” states Dr Gladstone Yearwood, director of the centre. “I want the success of our students to not only be anchored in their technical fortitude, but to also be empowered with a sense of cultural awareness.”
Dr Gladstone says that one of his objectives for the Centre for Creative Imagination is to “bring in visiting lecturers and artists, who can effectively communicate the concept that the most powerful means of storytelling is telling what you know. Whether writing for theatre, film or literary arts it is important to me that our students understand how trusting their personal story to have relevance is the critical substance needed for creating great art.”
The workshop attracted bout 50 participants from several Caribbean nations and the USA. And their ages ranged between 18 and mid 60s.
Saying “I see the Caribbean as a natural component of my strategic plan for community
Great examples of this, says Turnispeed, were in the original creative works delivered by scriptwriter Shawn “Black” Greene and Geneal St. Clair; multi-media diva Ahleana Greenridge; songster Karlos Cobham; choreographer/poet Alisia Payne; and, music
“These renderings became actualized almost instantly, hence the spiritual connection. Other participants, such as: Matthew Murrell, Hazel Charles, brought some of their previous work to the table that meld perfectly into the flow and context of the script written by Greene and choreographed by Payne, Jerilee Evanson-Kellman and the Center’s dance lecturer John Hunte. Outstanding theatrical performances by, Rashida Harding, Akil Ifill, Gina Mayers, Chrystal Cummings-Speckles, Kareen Arthur, Tihirah Hinds, Shari Pollard, Cretia Louis, Nichola Macdonald, Julie Griffin, Catherine Griffith, Janelle Mitchell, Sharday Brooks, Janelle Mitchell, Zaneta Edey, Kellisa Belgrave, Sonju Patterson and others only further demonstrated the preparedness of these students to
“The fifty-plus students and technicians involved in the process of staging ‘Sugar Pain Blues’ are only a sampling of the immense artistic wealth that can be tapped in the Caribbean generally, Barbados specifically. I think we have the makings of a classic on our hands,” stated Wentworth Bowen, lecturer at the Centre, regarding the Sugar Pain Blues project.
Turnipseed, on her part, says, “I was overjoyed by the talent that I was presented with. And how everyone stepped up to the challenge, in every possible way that we were successful in researching, scripting, rehearsing and performing such a phenomenal production, in only two weeks. . . I am honored to have been asked to facilitate the first in a series of such a remarkable undertaking as this, at the Centre; as well as, having the confidence of BB King Museum’s Executive Director Connie Gibbons to bring this experiment in original programming to the Mississippi Delta.”
Though Turnipseed’s objective for the workshop was to present theatrically the correlation between cotton plantations in the Mississippi Delta, the home of the Blues, and sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean, the home of Calypso, Soca, Spouge, Ska and Reggae; the outcome was much more than a correlation. She found the same parallel universes exist in the world, where struggle for hope, freedom and dignity were in any way impacted by the African slave trade. It is the same story, but different characters. Turnipseed witnessed first-hand the magic of participants, who responded with clear definitions of the workshop’s premise, “What the Blues means to me…”
Article compiled from a BB King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center news release