Essential Theatre premieres homage to Maya Angelou

The Florida A&M University community filled the Charles Winter Wood Theatre for the premier of “Change It Up! Ascension Homage to the Life and Words of Dr. Maya Angelou” Friday night. The FAMU Essential Theatre hosted the event for a night of singing, dancing, and spoken word.

The central message of the night varied with each set of performers. Each spoken word performance zoned in on a different element of Maya Angelou’s legacy.

Some performers praised the divine image of African-American women that Angelou proactively encouraged while others focused on uplifting of our black children.

Evelyn Demps, a retired paralegal from Orlando, traveled to Tallahassee to support the production. Encouraged by some of her friends that are alumni of the Theatre Department to attend, she was amazed with spoken word artists and their performances.

“I like the messages that they sent because a lot of them were inspiration for generations to come,” Demps said. “Also, the presence and essence of Dr. Maya Angelou’s words were included into their poems.”

“Phenomenal Woman,” written by Angelou, was one of her most recited bodies of works. This poem was nothing similar to how guests have heard it performed before.

Ashley Baker, a FAMU graduate from Memphis, said the best performance of the night was “phenomenal woman.” Baker experienced fond memories from her youth.

“I like how a little girl recited the poem,” Baker said. “This was special to me because as a young black girl, my mom made me read it to understand how sensational I was as a little black girl and that was a personal experience relatable to me.”

Kimberly Harding, producer and associate professor of the theatre department, was hopeful that audiences would enjoy the spoken word and poets performances in theatre. It is sometimes forgotten that these performance are a part of the theatre arts, she said.

“I wanted to put this show together so the students in those genres will have a chance to perform,” Harding said. “I just wanted the poets and spoken word artists to have a place up on stage.”

This production was used as a fundraiser for the Dr. Ronald O’Davis scholarship fund.  Noted as a “phenomenal man” in the program prior to his death in 2014, he was in the midst of trying to raise $100,000 in theatre scholarships.

The “Change It Up!” show proceeds will be donated to the scholarship fund to help keep the initiative of Ronald O’Davis alive.

The show was concluded with an excerpt from “Oprah’s Master Class Dr. Angelou on The Power Of Words,” featured on OWN Network program. In this video, Angelou left people with the message that everyone has the power to be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.

For Baker, this was the most meaningful lesson received from the legacy of Angelou.

“Everyone has a purpose to do something in life, we don’t judge people by sex, race, or anything like that,” Baker said. “Everyone can be a blessing to somebody and I believe that.”

Students should be on the lookout for the next “Change It Up!” production, whether it’s to participate or attend, the two-day production event has a new and different theme each year.