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March 7, 2013

Moving forwards while looking backwards

by Caroline Gabriel, Online News Editor, Emma Yeager, Online News Editor and Temi Ibirogba, Online Managing Editor
Dressed in traditional African attire, students strut across the stage, pausing every few seconds in sync with the music. The entire cast makes their way through the audience and back onstage where they sing their final song. The diverse cast of students links hands and the audience rises and joins in singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

Junior Assistant Director Amie Idriss performs in the Sankofa teaser. Emma Howells
Junior Assistant Director Amie Idriss performs in the Sankofa teaser.
In honor of black history month, Blair put on their second annual Sankofa show under the direction of English teacher Vickie Adamson. Sankofa is a mythical bird that flies forward while looking backwards, representing the show's theme: looking towards the future while celebrating the past and history African Americans have lived through. In the performance, students showcased various talents pertaining to African heritage, such as singing, dancing, reciting poems, acting, rapping and stepping.

The guiding plot of this year's show has changed compared to last year's, which was about a grandmother teaching her grandson about black history. "The framework is that students are in a classroom complaining about how they donít want to learn and then the performance acts are inserted," Adamson explains. Sankofa differs from usual black history celebrations in that it showcases lesser-known figures involved in black history, such as Barbara Jordan and Gwendolyn Brooks. "Instead of focusing on people who were in the spotlight of black history, we focus on people [who were] in the background," sophomore Ariel Blakey, who plays the schoolteacher in this yearís Sankofa cast, says.

The show this year has also gotten much more attention and aid than last year's. "The cast this year is two times bigger than last year and more diverse [involving both] talent and race," Junior Student Director Amie Idriss says. Idriss enjoys the fact that Sankofaís cast has such a diverse variety of people. "Sankofa is a really welcoming community; there are all types of different people," she says. Senior cast member Emma Rothman also likes the diverse cast. "Sankofa is fun and laid-back; everybody learns a lot about each other," Rothman says. In addition to showcasing a variety of talents, this yearís Sankofa cast is more ethnically diverse than last yearís. The cast has a strong representation of actors who identify as black and African American, as well as white and hispanic students. "People donít realize there is diversity under the 'black' category," senior Student Director Osee Obaonrin says.

Junior Dana Cook recites a poem in the Sankofa teaser. Emma Howells
Junior Dana Cook recites a poem in the Sankofa teaser.
Apart from a larger cast, Sankofa has also gotten a lot more help backstage this year. "This year [we have] a lot more stage crew people behind the scenes helping with costuming and organization," Idriss says. The amount of musicians the show has has also increased. "This year we have a lot more live music," Idriss says, "We have a team of musicians [as opposed to] last year when we only had one cello player." Junior Nick Byron, who was also a part of Sankofa last year, agrees that this year's show is much more put together. "The show last year was not as organized as it is now and it was more of a scramble than this year," he says.

The show has managed to face and conquer various obstacles as well. Since Sankofa is not like an average Blair play or musical where one must audition for a specific part, the actors, dancers and singers are all at different talent levels. "Because we have people who have different levels of experience, it is harder to get things together," Idriss says. English teacher and Assistant Director Pamela Bryant elaborates that cast members have different levels of experience. "We have a lot of students who are new in the theatre culture. It's a learning curve, thatís made it interesting,Ē Bryant says. Obaonrin agrees with Bryant that there was a learning curve, and she enjoys helping new actors work on stage presence and help them feel more comfortable in their roles. "I help people find where they need to be, and why they need to be there," she says. Taking that minor drawback into account, Idriss notes that the cast and show have developed tremendously. "There has been so much growth; the show has gotten much stronger [and the cast has] gotten really tight," Idriss says.

"There has been so much growth; the show has gotten much stronger." - Amie Idriss
The cast performed the show twice this year, a first for the newly established tradition. According to Obaonrin, the added show date stemmed from a special request from Principal Renay Johnson. "Last year, Ms. Johnson loved it so much she wanted us to do it again," Obaonrin says. According to Idriss, overall the changes made to this year's show have been beneficial. "I definitely think the show has gotten a lot stronger since last year and [even] since the beginning of the production," Idriss says.

"It takes a village to put on this show but I had a lot of help from other teachers like Ms. Edwards," Adamson says. The stress also added up because of the lack of space between all of the theatre productions this year and students involved in both Sankofa and other Blair productions. "A challenge was getting everybody there and [getting] everybody on board," Bryant says.

After the final performances, the cast members invited the audience to join the celebration by singing the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." The song reflected the Sankofa theme with lyrics that acknowledged the struggles and triumphs of the past and the hope for the future:

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.



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