The Hampton Years Talkback at Miriam’s Kitchen Or: How I Learned the meaning of VerKlempt

verklemptGrace here. Today was my last afternoon at Miriam’s Kitchen as an official representative of Theater J.  And I want to wax poetic, to make a grand declaration so that the people at Miriam’s will know how much I love them, how grateful I am to have the privilege of their friendship. But, to paraphrase a favorite play, “Loving and being loved is unliterary. It’s happiness expressed in banality…”

So for the present, I’ll just share with you some banalities. Who, What, Where, When.

At 2:30 pm today, my colleagues Molly Winston, Director of Community Engagement and New Media, and Alice Magelssen, Development Associate and I met The Hampton Years actors Sarah Douglas, Sasha Olinick and David Lamont Wilson at Miriam’s Kitchen, for a post-show talkback. This talkback follows upon a matinee performance on Friday, June 14, which the guests of Miriam’s Kitchen had attended.

As Sasha summarized the play for those who had not been present at the performance, he described the predicament of Viktor Lowenfeld, trying to fight for the importance of arts education in a trade-based school.  One guest noted how this dilemma reflected the ideological divide between Booker T. Washington (and his emphasis on trade-based education for African Americans)  and W.E.B. Dubois (who emphasized the importance of the arts). We touched on the different philosophies embraced by HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), from Tougaloo College to The Hampton Institute.

We also re-enacted a scene from The Hampton Years (noting, I might add, that Miriam’s Kitchen is harboring some extremely talented actors!) and discussed the process of creating art as an actor, as well as a writer, painter, and poet. The people at Miriam’s Kitchen are all extremely artistically engaged, so everyone at the table could speak to their process, and the extent to which it was ‘haptic’ as Viktor champions in the play, vs. visual. One man described how the words for his poems issue forth almost as if they existed fully formed inside him.

We closed the discussion by going around the circle and sharing a particular piece of art that has meant a great deal to us. In The Hampton Years, it was a Kuba mask. Some of the guests named poems (one even recited his cherished poem). Others named movies; a man who had spent some time in jail referenced  The Shawshank Redemption. Still others talked about novels; one young woman shared that she loved a novel about an autistic young man because her brother was autistic, and the novel was almost a way for her to share the story of her brother. People talked about paintings, monuments and songs, and more. They shared their beloved artwork, and in so doing, they shared what Lowenfeld would call “their truth.”

By the time I left Miriam’s today, I had a new work of art that means the world to me. A very dear guest used wool of all different colors to knit me a warm winter hat that covers my ears, telling me that though she was sorry I was moving, this would keep me warm by the Great Lakes up in Illinois. She conveyed so much with her beautiful creation, and the emotion behind it.

I’m teetering into cliché, so I’ll stop writing now. And really, I’ve veered quite entirely away from my mission of stating the facts of this afternoon clearly.  So, to return to my initial approach.

At 4:00, the discussion ended, and we all went our separate ways. Sasha gave Molly and me a ride back to Theater J, and we discussed the future of the Theater J/Miriam’s Kitchen collaboration. And then I sat down to recount the afternoon, and discovered what it means to be Verklempt.

One thought on “The Hampton Years Talkback at Miriam’s Kitchen Or: How I Learned the meaning of VerKlempt

  1. What an an incredibly powerful experience, beautifully described! Is there any doubt about the power of art and people’s craving for it? Those of us who go to the theater at will and casually critique the artists’ work are apt to forget the rich experience of seeing a live performance. Thank you, Miriam ‘s kitchen and Grace for reminding us!

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