Audience members at the Sliman Theater for the Performing Arts were taken on a trip Friday night.
They didn’t physically go anywhere, but the stories of 10 members of New Iberia’s African American community transported the audience back to a New Iberia that has been largely written out of the history books.
The encore performance of the preview of “First Light,” a dramatic reading of the personal remembrances of the participants spanning the Jim Crow era to Civil Rights movement and beyond, is designed to fill in the pages of “HIS story,” as the cast proclaimed, with the reality of the black experience in the Teche Area.
The stories were compelling. Whether it was memories of the struggle for relevance and standing in semi-rural Louisiana or the recounting of how families dealt with the first taste, as children, of the racism inherent in the 1950s South, the perspective of the readings, the rhythmic grinding of the words and the emotions they carried, created a world that had not yet discovered cultural diversity.
The view of the city’s white populace, seen through the filter of time and enlightenment, was telling. The readings came out of a workshop last year, and was first performed at Shadows-on-the-Teche in November. It is part of a larger project, “Telling the Full History,” which aims to showcase homegrown talent while exploring the traditions, cultural impact and history of New Iberia’s black neighborhoods and families.
The goal is for the group to return to Shadows in September to perform the full version of the work.
The program is sponsored in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. Creators and performers included Mary Maragret Bell, Elton J. Broussard Jr., Rose Susan Eugenia Dorsey, Norma Ne’Shara Hardmon, Phebe Hayes, Jamaya L. Johnny, Lori A. Landry, Charles L. Porter, Kelly D. Porter, and Jackie Reedom.
The lead artist for “First Light” is Ifa Bayeza, who also wrote “Bunk Johnson Out of the Shadows!”