By David Snow| Demopolis Times
Published Monday, September 22, 2008
EUTAW — Greene County has a community theatrical company that not only serves its citizens, it has also been invited to perform in New York City.
The StoryTree Acting Company is a theatrical group begun by New York native Malik Brown and brought to Greene County to help extend cultural ties to the arts for the community.
“We started out teaching young people,” Brown said. “Then, we got adults interested. My wife and I have been doing this for 16 years. We moved here in 1995, and then we started putting this acting company together.
“We got this space graciously donated to us by SCORE, which also does after-school programs here in Greene County, and it has grown in its five years of service. It’s just a wonderful thing, our getting together with them, because I saw at the beginning the things that they were doing, and I thought that we could add our talent to it.”
The StoryTree Acting Company will perform at the Eastside Institute’s “Performing the World” in New York City on Oct. 2-5, featuring more than 150 groups from around the world.
“We’ll be performing vignettes,” Brown said. “One of them was from ‘Real Black Men Don’t Sit Cross-Legged on the Floor: A Collage in Blues.’ We’ll be doing a piece with Vassie Welbeck-Brown’s work, entitled ‘Talking Drum Caper,’ which is talking about the effect of the environment. We’ll also do a piece involving Bessie Bizzell entitled ‘How It Came to Be Now,’ which deals with the basket makers and quilters and how our community came to be.”
“It also deals with the oral tradition,” Welbeck-Brown said, “the tales that are handed down from generation to generation.”
The Company hopes to move to a more centralized location in Eutaw to allow more people to view or take part in their performances.
“First, we want to have a world-class acting company, and I think we’re on our way,” Brown said. “The other thing we’re looking at in terms of space is having different things come in. There is a lot of culture in this area, and it wouldn’t necessarily all be theatre. We have a lot of quilters, we have a lot of basket makers. We’re looking at developing into a cultural center in addition to theatrical performances.
“We also want to being in acts. For instance, Ella Joyce was in town doing her show called ‘A Rose Amongst Thorns,’ which was about Rosa Parks. We would like to bring in people like Ella Joyce or Ruby Dee in to do their shows for the community. It’s not just us.”
The StoryTree Acting Company has performed in Marengo and other area counties, but generally has performed along the Atlantic seaboard in New York and North Carolina, among other places.
On Saturday, the company was rehearsing with the recitation of original poetry by its younger members, Marvin Adams and Mercedes Lightfoot, as well as a piece from Langston Hughes’ “Emperor of the Muse,” which the company performed before with The Demopolis Singers.
The company plans a Kwanzaa performance in Greene County in December and will have an original performance for the senior citizens in May. The group will also perform later this year at the University of West Alabama.
Soon, students from Paramount Junior High School will go into the community to interview local civil rights workers and their families, and then write a play to perform at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery in February.
“We are taking the art to help develop our community in whatever way that we can,” said Welbeck-Brown, Brown’s wife and a native of Greene County. “Creative arts have been a huge tool, not just for the community, but also for education. We have a pilot project that we have coming up to teach self-structure and function at the local high schools.”
“It has always been our purpose to incorporate the arts into life,” Brown said, “not as something separate and elite. We want to incorporate that into the fabric of the community in everyday life.”
A great part of the theatre group, aside from the community members, are its youth members, who not only perform but contribute through their own writings, performing through their recitations.
“Marvin Adams is one of those folks who called me up and he wanted to act,” Brown said. “Mercedes Lightfoot is from Sumter County discovered us through a poetry writing contest, and she won a poetry award.”
The StoryTree Acting Company wants to serve the community through showing its performances and including the community within its performances. It takes the stage in schools in Greene County and has trod the boards in “America’s theatre district,” New York City.
It is part of helping a community grow culturally not only through teaching but also through involving its citizens in the cultural arts. In essence, it, too, is about handing down stories that can be shared from generation to generation and tapping previously unseen talents to bolster the community awareness in the arts.
More information about the StoryTree Acting Company can be found at the Web site http://stco.artshost.com or by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling Brown at (205) 372-3711.