By Rebecca Carlson
*This article originally appeared in print and online in the Pensacola News Journal on Feb. 1, 2018.
To celebrate Black History Month, Pensacola State College will present two uniquely formatted plays on Saturday honoring the lives and legacies of Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
“I like putting on a great show — not just a good show — a great show,” said Lawrence Gamell Jr., director of both productions.
The inspiration for the unusual format of “MLK and Mandela” came from his affinity for the classic television show “The Twilight Zone.” One episode, in fact, featured Burgess Meredith as a librarian on trial.
“I liked the idea of a character that can only speak in the voices of those who he’s presenting,” Gamell said.
This gave Gamell the idea for the role of the “Recognizer,” a character who only speaks in the voice of the historical figures he’s requested to represent.
“Here’s this person, the ‘Recognizer.’ He’s the one (who holds) all the history for black history,” said Gamell, who will act in both roles. “He stays in the place like a librarian. When he’s called upon, he gives the knowledge to those that want to receive it.”
The concept originally began as the play “Speaker for Black History,” which also included depictions of Fredrick Douglas and George Washington Carver.
“It evolved to ‘MLK and Mandela.’ I wanted to show how they have so much in common as far as goals and how they went about it peacefully by changing minds,” Gamell said.
Josephine Mayo will act as narrator for “MLK and Mandela,” providing background information and history for each character that will complement the performance.
Jessica McMillan will star in “Harriet” written by Kisha Kenyatta and arranged by Samuel French Inc. McMillian will portray Harriet Tubman from childhood to becoming one of history’s greatest abolitionist.
“Even Harriet will be a little different. You’ll be drawn into it,” Gamell said. “There will be shadows and light and sounds of what she’s going through. A whip, a railroad, or how the forest moves and is lit.”
Gamel said he enjoys presenting classical productions in an innovative way.
“That’s my goal. To present something to the community that really inspires others and poses a different point of view,” he said.
Gamell has worked with Mayo and McMillan on other plays such as “Doubt: A Parable” and “The Mountaintop.” Although they worked on production honoring black history, this will be the first time performing during Black History Month.
Both plays are free to the public thanks to grant funding through the Black History and Multicultural Committee led by Dr. Gael Frazer.
Want to go?
WHAT: “MLK and Mandela” and “Harriet”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Feb. 3
WHERE: Pensacola State College Ashmore Auditorium on the college’s Pensacola campus, 1000 College Blvd.
MORE INFO: Contact the Pensacola State College Office of Institutional Diversity at 850-484-1759.