The success of the 1960s civil rights movements means many things to Americans — equality, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and the freedom to get up on stage and shout the message again to the world: “All my life I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” So announced Fannie Lou Hamer, the American voting rights activist and civil rights leader who took her belief in the right to vote directly to the faces of those who denied her.
In thanks and solidarity, actor Donna Lee Williams is bringing her portrayal of Hamer to ARTworks, for two nights only, February 8-9. “The Power of 1ne” is a not-to-be-missed, one woman show about Hamer and 11 people who influenced her, good and bad. The Charleston City Paper called Donna Lee Williams’ performance “well-acted and educational.”
This is a powerful subject. Here’s what the actress had to say:
Q: Why and how did you choose Fannie Lou Hamer to portray on stage?
A: While in graduate school at Mason School of the Arts of Rutgers University, I first heard an excerpt of Mrs. Hamer’s speech before the Credentials Committee of the 1964 Democratic National Convention. I was inspired by her passionate plea and angered that I’d never heard of her courage and her contributions to our history and our struggle for decency and humanity. I decided that her story deserved to be told and set out to do just that.
Q: Why is it important to artistically interpret and theatrically portray Civil Rights Leaders?
A: The struggle for Civil Rights is still a very important one. We dare not forget those who fought tirelessly for the freedoms we now enjoy and we dare not rest on their laurels without picking up the baton and furthering their work. Theatre affords us a unique opportunity to inspire future generations by breathing life into the men and women who fought for our Civil Rights. The stage has for centuries been a vehicle to entertain and enlighten audiences to the issues affecting our communities. It is the perfect platform to continue to spread the important message of Civil Rights.
Q: How do you alone handle so many characters on one stage?
A: Each character is the catalyst for the next character Mrs. Hamer experiences in her life journey. My goal is to give audiences a glimpse of the events which had the greatest impact on her life. On stage, I try to imagine each character as Mrs. Hamer might have seen him/her at different times in her life. I feel charged with the responsibility to simply breathe life into these characters. Therefore, I’m not thinking of the “next character,” I’m concentrating on the impact this new life force is having on me; on Fannie Lou Hamer.
Q: How did you start acting? What artists inspire you?
A: I started acting around 6 years of age in my bathroom mirror. I’ve always been intrigued by this rare and incredible gift, the gift to act. I wanted to know everything there was to know about it. I performed in the typical middle and high school productions and joined the performing arts company at Bennett College. While my parents groomed me to become a physician and I excelled in the sciences, I have a BS in Biology, acting was my true love. After graduating from Bennett College, I did post graduate work in acting at North Carolina A&T State University and then went on to earn my Masters of Fine Arts in Acting from Rutgers University.
Many great artists inspire me. Early on I was inspired by Cicely Tyson as she was one of the few African American actresses given an opportunity to create authentic characters depicting the African American experience. However, I must say that I simply love to see artists, all artists, excel at their craft. Some of my favorite artists are Denzel Washington, Angela Basett, Morgan Freeman, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and Don Cheadle.
Q: Where do you get your courage?
A: My courage comes from the Lord. He is the source of my strength. Daily I am reminded that I am still alive because there is a purpose for a my life; a destiny to fulfill. My great-grandmother reared me and she was a living example of strength, grace and service to others. She taught me that true courage is seen in one’s willingness to lift others up and lend a helping hand, even to the least of these. I would, by the grace of God, find such courage to continue her legacy and inspire others to do the same.
This performance is February 8 & 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the black box theater at ARTworks in Beaufort Town Center, 2127 Boundary Street, Beaufort. For more information, visit www.artworksinbeaufort.org, 843-379-2787.