“History, Legacy, & Verdancy”: ‘Ancient Of Ways’ as Theater On The Lawn
RALEIGH, NC — (JUNE 22, 2022) — One of the first impressions that struck me upon my arrival to Raleigh three years ago was the vast wealth of green space and historical markers that dot practically every corner of the city — from institutions like the North Carolina History Museum to permanent art installations like the concrete slab in the shape of North Carolina at the NCMA Park. Burnished metallic plaques jet out from the center of the state map, tracing its periphery with location markers of everything cool and noteworthy about North Carolina — from the birthplace of Thelonious Monk to the historic flight-pioneering ventures of the Wright Brothers.
North Carolina venerates its history. It also boldly confronts its problematic past. One event caught my attention — both for its content and location. “Idols, Empires, and Confederate Statues: How We Mark Public Space,” a six-week bible study, met on Capitol grounds rotating each week in front of a different Confederate statue. We compared the icon’s page-1 narrative to the problematic page-2 reality. Bible stories were used to motivate the faithful towards bold confrontations with imperial structures that prefer to hide (or ignore) page-2. I was awestruck by the dichotomies that co-existed, and the room made for people to have their say.
By the end of Summer 2019, I had logged hundreds of hours sitting under North Carolina trees, hiking greenways, and studying the works and words of NC prophets, professors, philosophers, and philanthropists. I marveled at how well the land had been stewarded, ever mindful of how to mark the current moment with stories that will be carried by our children.
For me, the question “what stories should be told” eventually became “what stories do I want to tell, and where do I want to tell them?”
A revolutionary artist who tells stories about the softness of Black girls and the compassion of Black women on diverse platforms — page, stage, screen, web, radio, and podcast, from my perspective, one of the gifts of the pandemic was time, space, and stillness — a trifecta that feeds creative thought. It was in that creative clearing that I began drafting the script for my summer production “Ancient Of Ways: For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Ifa When Jesus Came Up Short,” opening July 14, 2022, and running through July, 31, 2022, at the historic St. Agnes Hospital shell (adjacent to St. Augustine’s University). Billed as “theater on the lawn,” I am enamored with the history of St. Agnes, as well as the gorgeous backdrop of the vine-covered, red brick structure. Performances will start at 7:30 PM, Thursdays to Sundays.
Why “theater on the lawn”?
Since the start of the pandemic, I have grown fonder of outdoor spaces. I marvel at the array of colors in the sky at dusk (and dawn). The ‘sky-canopy’ is more dramatic than any theater backdrop I could design. Also, it’s safer. We will provide chairs. We also encourage guests to bring their own chairs and blankets and to meet up on the St. Agnes lawn to watch an engaging performance without the pretense of traditional theater. We’ve broken down all the walls and invite you to South Park Village (the setting of the production). Come and see.
Why St. Agnes?
While learning the history of Raleigh, I found the study of the local HBCUs to be the most fascinating. Not just the lengthy roster of celebrities and history-makers, but also the founders’ narratives. White allies like Sara Hunter who raised money to open St. Agnes, which, for a time, was the only African American hospital from New Orleans to Washington, DC. Fascinating. I would pass by, admiring the beautiful, roofless relic, thinking about it as a great spot for performance art.
What can the audience expect?
A great time! It’s an interfaith love story that features drumming, dancing, and stories on stage. The dancers range in age from 10 to 75. They dance to everything from HBCU drum lines to Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady”. Again, a great time!
Who are my influences?
In preparation for telling bold stories, I read lots of prose by Audre Lorde. She is #solutions! I also studied the Combahee River Collective’s Black Feminist Manifesto, which speaks to the intersectionality of Black women’s lives. It encouraged me to not live bifurcated, but rather to incorporate all aspects of how I see the world and show up in it. Their influences fanned the flames of my reverent irreverence, my love of history, my love of love stories, and my fascination with the genesis of how we come to believe what we believe, and then live it out in a world filled with diverse thought.
What is the synopsis of “Ancient Of Ways”?
DENISE checked all the “honorable woman” boxes: educated, celibate, active in ministry. It was supposed to bring her heavenly bliss. Instead, she’s depressed and lonely.
Exhausted by the dismissal of “Black girl joy,” she slips into a Sunday jazz brunch and drowns herself in bottomless mimosas. That is where she meets WAYNE (ADEYEMI), an easy-to-look-at, socially conscious man, who reveals that he practices Yoruba, an African indigenous religion (the Ifa Orisha tradition). The ever-devout Christian Denise says they can be friends, but nothing more.
Then they become more.
When is the production?
7:30 PM, Thursday — Sunday, July 14–31, 2022, at the Historic St. Agnes Hospital shell (adjacent to St. Augustine’s University, 1315 Oakwood Ave, Raleigh, NC)
Where can we get tickets and more information?
TICKETS — https://ancient-of-ways.eventbrite.com
For more information, www.alexusrhone.com.
“Ancient Of Ways: For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Ifa When Jesus Came Up Short”
Thurs — Sun, July 14–17
Thurs — Sun, July 21–24
Thurs — Sun, July 28–31
7:30 PM, nightly
St. Agnes Hospital shell
1315 Oakwood Ave, Raleigh, NC (St. Augustine’s University)
NOTE: This production will take place outside on the hallowed grounds of this historic building, “theater on the lawn”. We invite guests to bring beach blankets, lawn chairs, and open minds, ready to take the ‘Colored Girl’s journey’.
To ensure the greatest level of comfort to our guests, the event will be staged on the east side of the structure at sunset. If you need specific accommodations, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.