Sinclair celebrates Black voices in ‘Illuminated’

“This is a beautiful project simply illuminating voice,” director Sierra Leone said



Sinclair Community College’s Theatre Department and Diversity Office presents a virtual presentation of “Illuminated: Ancestors, Love, Kinship,” an expressive exploration of Black voices, beginning Friday, March 5 as a Facebook Live event on Sinclair Theatre’s Facebook page

Fifteen selections of creative theater, spoken word and poetry will be featured in the production, directed by Sierra Leone of Oral Funk Poetry Productions and compiled by Sinclair’s Poet Laureate Furaha Henry-Jones. In addition to Leone, authors included are Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni and Sunni Patterson.

“I have certainly been inspired by spoken word and poetry lately,” said Gina Neuerer, chair of Sinclair’s Music, Theatre and Dance Department. “Between Brandon Leake winning ‘America’s Got Talent’ and Amanda Gorman hitting the world stage, I have been encouraging our students to explore this world. Furaha and I talked about finding work that would celebrate Black voices. So, as curator, she gathered pieces that would speak of love, ancestry and kinship in the Black community. Sierra put the project together making sure we were illuminating Black voices through creative and artistic expressions.”

“Sinclair Community College created a magnificent opportunity for their students,” said Leone, recipient of the 2018 Ohio Governor’s Award. “The students appreciated their own gaze, their own existence, their own voice. It was great to work with them to help them realize they don’t have to be a dancer in order to take up space or be in a large production to really bring a monologue to life. You can take a piece of poetry and find yourself and rediscover who you are. And that’s what they did. They grew, they healed. We did so much work with the pieces and through the pieces for them to realize their purpose. I really appreciated Furaha’s curation as well. Without proper curation it would have complicated things.”



The cast consists of Leia Gaddis, Kasaahn Johnson, Mackenzie Moore, Saul Salaam and Cormari Pullings. Sinclair and Ball State graduate Brian Morgan served as stage manager. Rehearsals were held on Zoom and the final video was recorded and edited under the technical direction of Rodney Veal, an independent choreographer and interdisciplinary artist and host of the Emmy-winning “The Art Show.” Veal has also taught dance at Sinclair, University of Dayton and Stivers School for the Arts.

“All the students realized poetry is not prose,” Leone said. “(They found) all of the beauty inside what was not said in the poem and then found themselves in the words that were spoken. It was particularly great seeing Kasaahn embody Sunni Patterson’s powerful poem ‘Ancestors.’ He morphed into realizing he can pay homage to his ancestors right now, with a prayer, a moment of thanks and appreciation for every life lived before his, and then embody it. Not just say it – be it.”

In addition, musician, composer and songwriter Jomo Faulks supplied the production’s music. Faulks, a Dayton native, has performed extensively throughout the United States as well as Canada and Jamaica, appearing with such music greats as Don Cherry, Carl Berger and Stanley Cowell. On the concert circuit, he has opened for such legends as James Taylor, Doc Severinson and Dick Gregory.

Faulks specializes in African rhythms but is equally fluent in jazz, R&B and gospel. In particular, he is a player of one of the only chromatic/electric mbira of its kind, based on the ancient African mbira (thumb piano). His solo debut CD, “Mystical ViBraTion,” an assortment of his original African/Eastern-inspired compositions performed on traditional mbiras, is also available in stores and via the Internet.

“For this performance, it was a very specific sound, a particular style of percussion, energy and vibration,” Leone said. “It was beautiful.”

The public is encouraged to view and share “Illuminated” any time after the live debut from the Sinclair Theatre Facebook page. The project was made possible through a grant from Sinclair’s Diversity Office. Organizers hope audiences are engaged and inspired by this unique programming opportunity.

“Sinclair theater performance majors had a remarkable educational experience to grow as artists thanks to the foundational work of Furaha and visionary work of Sierra,” Neuerer said.

“I really think the production will be something the community appreciates,” Leone added. “This is also a moment in which the students recognized it was OK to make art that’s a representation of their culture, their lived experiences, and that it was to be celebrated. This is a beautiful project simply illuminating voice. To be honest, the gaze in theater is not always Black.”

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