TACOMA, Wash. – Claressa, a 12-year-old African American girl living in Louisiana in 1966, steps forward on the stage and avows to her audience, “I know things.”
Over the next six years, the confident young girl takes the audience into her world—one where teenagers quickly discover that school, friends, and family are not always what they appear, and where bigger stories about race, class, parental expectations, and love move through their lives in complex ways.
The honesty of Claressa’s inquisitive mind is the guiding thread in the remarkable play 1620 Bank Street by C. Rosalind Bell (pictured). The debut performance will be at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26, with further performances at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, Thursday, Nov. 1, Friday, Nov. 2, and Saturday, Nov. 3. The one afternoon performance will be at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3. The event will be in Norton Clapp Theatre, Jones Hall at University of Puget Sound. Ticket information and a map are below.
“This is a play full of generosity and compassion that explores the gains and losses of growing up,” said co-director Geoff Proehl. “It’s also about language—how the power of words can build bridges and tear them down, maybe never to be repaired again.”
Proehl is co-director and co-dramaturge, alongside Grace Livingston, with scene design by Kurt Walls and costume design by Mishka Navarre.
The play’s story is based on Bell’s own experiences of growing up in Lake Charles, La., and of attending a Catholic high school, more than a decade after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case officially ended segregation in schools. In 1960s Louisiana and elsewhere, racism remained a large part of individuals’ lives, and for Claressa, it is one of many of the “things” that she comes to intimately know.
Bell, the Dolliver Artist in Residence at Puget Sound, says she hopes 1620 Bank Street will bring new perspectives to audience members, many of whom may believe that racism is a thing of the past.
“There is still a lot of work to be done in regard to race,” she says, pointing to a recent news story about a Louisiana school reunion party that invited “white graduates only.” She added, “Those who think we’ve moved beyond issues of race are walking through life with blinders on.”
Bell is the author of two other plays, New Orleans Monologues and Under the Circumstances, and is a writer of short stories, screenplays, and a novel, currently in progress. She worked earlier as a civil rights investigator with the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
The staging of 1620 Bank Street is part of the Telling Stories/Recovering the Past series at University of Puget Sound, which includes lectures and films through October and November. The play is presented by the Department of Theatre Arts in collaboration with the Race and Pedagogy Initiative and African American Studies. It is supported by the James M. Dolliver National Endowment for the Humanities.
Please note: This play contains strong and offensive language and challenging social themes.
FOR TICKETS: order online at http://tickets.pugetsound.edu, or call Wheelock Information Center to purchase with a credit card at 253.879.6013. Admission is $11 for the general public; $7 for seniors (55+), students, military, and Puget Sound faculty, staff and students. Remaining tickets will be available at the door.
Photos on page: Top right: C. Rosalind Bell; Above left: Monroe Elementary School, Topeka, Kansas, where racial segregations was challenged in the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education.
Press photos of Rosalind Bell can be downloaded from: www.pugetsound.edu/pressphotos
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