the transformative power of live theater


ClassicsFest 2010: ‘Les Blancs’

As ClassicsFest 2010 unspools, we’ll be featuring insights from the project initiators about what inspired them to choose their plays and their experience of working on them.

Les Blancs
by Lorraine Hansberry

CLASSIC: The word classic means something that is a perfect example of a particular style, something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality.

Why didn’t I think of it before? Please, forgive me Ms. Hansberry for not seeing what was right in front of me.  We have had many encounters, your play and I.  The first was in school.  Flipping through a theatre history book, fantasizing about a life in the theatre, and there it was staring at me, in the face; A black and white photo of a powerful actor in traditional costume, masks creeping out from the dark of the stage, the caption read Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry.  It showed a particular style and I believe it was taken from a production at the Negro Ensemble Company. I may even have read it, but it was your other play, ‘the famous one’, which drew my naive artistic attention.

Our next encounter was some 20 years later.  I pursued my dreams and found myself preparing for a role in your ‘famous play’ at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  I read everything you wrote and everything I could find about you, including more photos of an OSF production of Les Blancs.  I read it again, and wondered, “Why hasn’t this play of lasting worth been done more often? What’s wrong? Are we afraid?” Since your time, our native brothers and sisters have gone through enormous changes: famine, drought, genocide, disease, discovery, reconciliation, industry, and yes, independence.  Apartheid no longer exits. But, as you predicted in the ‘famous play,’ we still find our once revered revolutionaries resorting to greed, anger, and stupidity.  Forgive us for not paying attention sooner to the timeless quality of your artistry.

The third encounter is happening now, the 21st Century. A time contemporary scholars call ‘A Century of Africa.’  We’re a courageous troupe of performers, varied individuals, dedicated to the classics, rediscovering and unlocking treasures of art.  For some, the classic, Les Blancs, will be a new discovery, for me, well; it’s been with me all along, anxiously waiting.  Thank you Ms. Hansberry.

– Mirron Willis, Actor

Les Blancs plays as a “Work in Progress” on August 3rd and 4th at 8pm.

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