'Lady Day' Makes Campus Debut PDF Print E-mail
By Seth E. Davis - Black College Wire   


Ashley Bishop as Billie Holiday

Despite a few expected obstacles , TSU's Department of Communications presents its spring production, "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" through April 6.

A primarily one-woman show directed by theatre professor Lawrence James, Lady Day also was the department's first production in partnership with the campus radio station, WTST.

James described it as "a one person (tour de force) play with supporting characters, which profiles the life and music of jazz icon Billie Holiday."

WTST Station Manager Terra Bell, a senior communications major from Detroit, said, "In the past we have had a hard time connecting with communications [department], but it was thought of by our assistant promotion director, Tobias Green." James said he decided on the play after being familiar with it for years.

"The Area of Theatre in the Department of Communications made the decision to do a musical show because a musical had not been produced for several years," James said. "We wanted to provide a more well-rounded program of styles of plays for our students."

Auditions for the show were held in the fall semester and actual practices were held towards the end of January.

"As soon as I heard about the audition, I got so excited," said Ashley Bishop, a sophomore communications major with an emphasis in theatre from Winterville, Ga., and the lead actress in the play.

"[I] started preparing almost two weeks ahead of time. "When I was told I got the part, you know I actually started to cry," Bishop continued. "It was very emotional for me because a one woman show is an actor's dream but it is also a lot of hard work. To portray the life as Miss Lady Day herself is more than a privilege."

James spoke highly of Bishop. "Working with Ashley has been exceptional," James said. "I find Ashley Bishop to be one of the most disciplined, hard working and committed actors I've had the pleasure to work with.

"As a sophomore, she shows the maturity of someone with much experience," he continued. "Her work ethic, commitment and ability to take directions are very noteworthy. With these types of qualities, Ashley has potential for success in whatever her field(s) of endeavor."

Though the show is primarily a one-woman show, it still includes four other characters - one is played by faculty member Darryl Nettles.

Nettles, a music professor and director of the University Choir, plays Holiday's accompanist, Jimmie Powers; he also serves as the musical director for the play.

"He is a multitalented vocalist, pianist, teacher and as we can see in the show, actor as well," James said. "Nettles brings a wealth of expertise to the production. We have been extremely fortunate to have him work with us. He has been an integral part of the collaborative and artistic processes."

Even with a talented cast, James explained that there have still been obstacles that production has had to overcome in order to produce a play like this one.

"The major obstacle that has had to be overcome has been with not having adequate support in certain areas of production," James said. "That is, the theatre program continues to be impeded by a lack of essential support by basic theatrical production procedures and accountability to make things happen."

He surmised that directing a theatre production is a challenging, taxing task for faculty.

Nonetheless, James and Bishop both said they expected a good turnout from the student body.

"Whether it be the music, or Billie's story, or even the foul language because Billie most definitely had a potty mouth, the audience should absolutely love it and maybe even come another night or two to see the show," Bishop said.

James said, "Holiday's struggles with career success, drugs, prostitution, rape, racism, broken relationships, family, mother-daughter relationship are not foreign topics, but have to do with what everyone has to do, and that is to live and survive."

Shalisa Council, a sophomore communications major from Nashville, said many positive things about the production, in spite of its seemingly challenging concept.

"I didn't think a one-woman show would be too entertaining," Council said. "However, now that I have seen it I would highly recommend this play to the entire campus. There were phenomenal performances. Ashley did an outstanding job."

Seth E. Davis writes for The Meter, the Tennessee State University student newspaper, which originally published this article.



Posted April 3, 2008

Posted Apr. 04, 2008
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