FAMU’S Essential Theatre celebrates African roots in Sing On, Ms. Griot

The offical program logo for Sing on, Ms. Griot | Photo credit: FAMU Essential Theatre 

Combining the art of African storytelling and the vibrancy within African culture, FAMU’s Essential Theatre hosted Sing On, Ms. Griot at the Ronald O. Davis Actor’s Studio in Tucker Hall on Saturday, Nov. 4.

The play was a workshop production in the theatre’s “Writing for Life” series. The series gives new and established playwrights the opportunity to showcase their work and discuss the challenges that come when writing a script. After the performance, the audience is encouraged to discuss the play with the playwright to help give the playwright new ways of looking at the production and help guide the script.

Sing On, Ms. Griot is a children’s play that takes a look into the cultural differences and similarities of Africans and African-Americans. Through a competition of dance, song, music and storytelling, both parties involved are able to see that they have more of a connection than both realized.

Set in the present day, the play follows African folk teller Madame Griot and African folktale character, Ananese as they compete in a bet to see if African-Americans truly know their African heritage. While Madame Griot insists that Africans and African-American are all children of Mother Africa, Ananese insists that having an enslaved past makes African-Americans illegitimate.

The production is an original work from playwright, Beth Turner, who was inspired by comments she has heard over the years from both Africans and African-Americans who were unwilling to embrace the other’s culture. With the new discoveries that have been made to track ancestry using technology, Turner encourages everyone to find their roots.

“There are so many tools out nowadays. A lot of [the technology] have family trees,” Turner said. The more and more people who put their information in these kind of systems, the more likely you’re gonna get a hit of some sort.”

Singing in both African language and English language, that cast danced to modern-day African-African music and percussion driven African music. Audience members were encouraged to clap and sing along.

The cast of Sing on, Ms. Griot in Tucker Hall | Photo credit: Katherine Brinkley-Broomfield

Freshman theatre student Brianna Cidel starred as Madame Griot. It wasn’t until the rehearsals and reading the play’s script that Cidel saw the correlation between African and African-American culture.

“Just realizing that African culture and African-American culture is really one. [I didn’t realize] it until we did the contest,” Cidel said. “I’m glad I got to be in this play because it taught me that we are really one. That we need to come together and that it is really important that we do come together.”

After the play, a discussion led by T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh and Turner took place. Audience members utilized the discussion time to contribute their thoughts on the play. During the discussion, members of the audience remarked how the play would be a great way to teach children how important it is to know the origin of their culture and appreciating different cultures.

Among those in the audience was third-year broadcast journalism student Amari Godwin. Godwin enjoyed how the play blended African culture and African-American culture to show the differences and similarities between the two.

“The message I got was even though we may not all come directly from Africa, we still all have the same rhythm, the same love for each other, the same love for the country,” Godwin said. “Our rhythm, our beats still come from the motherland. It’s still the same.”