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"Day of Absence"

WHAT:           Day of Absence        

WHEN:           April 19th-20th and 22nd-23rd at 7:30 p.m.
                        Matinee on the 23rd at 3:30 p.m.                        

WHERE:        Henry Ponder Fine Arts Humanities Center Theater      

The Benedict College School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) and the Fine Arts Department will bring to the stage Day of Absence, a satirical play that deals with social issues of the civil rights movement.

The play is free to the public. Performances are scheduled for April 19th-20th and 22nd-23rd at 7:30 p.m. in the Henry Ponder Fine Arts Humanities Center (Little Theater).   

Douglas Turner Ward's Day of Absence opened at the St. Mark Playhouse on November 15, 1965. The play ran for 504 performances and was a major success. It garnered an Obie Award for acting and a Drama Desk Award for writing. Impressed with his work, the New York Times invited Ward to write an article on the condition of black artists in American theater. During this period, the Negro Assemble Company had formed in New York. 

"I was part of the black artist theater movement, which was an effort to advance black artists beyond the stereotypical roles," said Charles David Brooks, III, Professor of Theater and Director of the production. "We were being played as housemaids and chauffeurs. But, we needed to depict our growth, because we felt that the image of the theater impacts the image of society and Day of Absence is about change."

A one-act play, "Day of Absence," is a reverse minstrel show, with black actors in whiteface and blonde wigs performing the roles of whites in a small Southern town on a day when all the Blacks have mysteriously disappeared. A satirical fantasy, the only black character in the play is Rastus.  The black cast gives searing impersonations of Southern white stereotypes.

Ward points out the interdependence of the races in the South; the play contains a rich share of social commentary and bitterly satirizes the South's refusal to see the Negro as a dignified human being.  The play even suggests that some whites were blacks "infiltrating". 

Under his leadership, students thoroughly researched the play and found that the dialogue of that day (1960s-1970s) has come to pass, Mr. Brooks commented. Students from diversified disciplines were intrigued to learn that many of the predictions in the play are true today.

"The dialogue is so powerful, in as much as it has come to fruition," Brooks said.   

For example, blacks fought for desegregation of the public school system, but today public schools have ironically returned to a similar state of affairs, Brooks commented.

"In the play we (blacks) become doctors, lawyers and self-sufficient. However, a disconcerting reality, today blacks have returned to those demeaning roles that we once protested. Now, we're in waiting roles  waiting to see if things are going to change," he said.

The play provides a venue for students to learn about real life issues in a creative medium such as the arts, Brooks said. "This play allows our students to use theater like a microscope, to go in and visit another time periodTheater raises their level of consciousness," he added.

For more information, contact:
Charles David Brooks, III, Professor of Theater, 803-231-2151.

SEE ALSO Cast & Crew.

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