TERESA-MICHELLE WALKER loved Blues for an Alabama Sky when she was a student at Georgia Southern University.
These days, Walker is the one in charge. She teaches theater at Savannah State University, and is directing a production of the play, which is set in 1930 in Harlem.
“It’s culture-heavy, but it’s fun,” Walker says. “When I got the opportunity to do it, I jumped at it. I love small-cast plays.”
The play tells the story of Angel Allen, a blues singer at the famed Cotton Club, and that of her closest friends and the young man from Tuskegee whose heart she steals. Cast members are Sam Dunham, Jamaica Melenu, Dan Johnson, Sierra Blake and Joi Hughes as Angel Allen.
The play was written by Pearl Cleage of Atlanta, who has written that it takes place “after the creative euphoria of the Harlem Renaissance has given away to the harsh realities of the Great Depression.”
“Angel has just gotten fired, and is living with her friend, a costumer at Cotton Club, who dreams of going to Paris and designing for Josephine Baker,” Walker says. “Angel’s dreams are of being a singer in Paris.”
Another friend is trying to open a family planning clinic under the guidance of Margaret Sanger. “Angel’s love interest is a doctor at Harlem Hospital,” Walker says. “The play just follows all their dreams, their everyday lives.”
The doctor has lost his wife and child and has come to New York to get away. He falls in love with Angel, but she uses him. “Then she’s put in the situation of whether to stay with the Southern gentleman or go with her friend to Paris,” Walker says.
The characters are by no means typical. Angel’s designer friend is homosexual. “In African-American culture in 1930, that was taboo,” Walker says.
The playwright mentions people who actually existed - Margaret Sanger, the Rev. Clayton Powell, Langston Hughes. “You get a sense that all the characters really existed,” Walker says.
Walker is very pleased with her cast. Dunham came in for his first audition and was cast in the play. “Sierra Blake, she’s probably the quietest of the cast,” Walker says. “Joi Hughes is an Africana studies major and she’s really making Angel her own.”
Walker first met Hughes when she asked if she could be an usher for a previous production. “She showed up at the audition and was perfect for the part,” Walker says. “A lot of people were going out for the title character. It was the biggest audition process since I’ve been here.”
Cast members all have to sing and dance. “We’re going to open the show with the Black Diamond Dance Ensemble,” Walker says. “They’re SSU’s dance group and they’re fabulous. They’re going to do a 1930s Cotton Club performance complete with feathery headdresses.”
This is the third theatrical production at SSU this season. “Each time, more and more people are coming to audition, more and more people are coming to the shows,” Walker says. “People have stopped by my office constantly to see if they can help. Our program is interdisciplinary, so we can use visual artists, dancers, actors and singers. It’s a collaborative effort.”
For the current production, a contest was conducted among students to design the show’s poster. Melissa Thornton won the contest, and her design is being used to promote the show.
Walker is finding that many people in the community are discovering SSU because of the theater productions. “I think it’s odd for people not to know where Savannah State is,” she says. “There are only three big colleges here, and we should know where they are.”
Up next for the theater department is Pericles, and planning is well under way. “We’re going to do even crazier things,” Walker says. “The theater program has developed even better than I expected.
“We’ve had students come forward and say they’re not a theater major but they want to do set design or costumes,.” she says. “We’ve had a few people who decided to change their major. We’ve got people coming out of their shells.” cs
Blues for an Alabama SkyThe play will be presented Feb. 18 at 8pm as part of the Savannah Black Heritage Festival. Admission for that performance will be free.Regular production dates are Feb. 19, 20 and 21 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 22 at 3 p.m. Admission $10 general public and $5 for students/faculty of all area colleges.All performances will be held in the Kennedy Fine Arts Theatre on the Savannah State University campus.