Making Connections: The Director, The Guide, The Storyteller

by B. E. Melendez
from the School of Theatre & Dance of The University of South Florida in Tampa, FL
Volume I. Nov-Dec 2011

Though “Road Weeps and the Well Runs Dry” will be staged in Florida two years from now, the play’s director, Professor Fannie Green, is not wasting any time preparing for the production. “I want to be saturated with information,” said the director who is a professor of theater at the University of South Florida as well as a noted actress and director. “I know that everything I learn now will have more meaning later.”

Alvon Griffin is making a reappearance in Professor Green’s life to support her research and understanding of cultural history. They worked together years ago. His mother is a Black Seminole which has provided him with a deep understanding about Indian culture and connects him to this play about Black Seminoles in a unique way.

Mr. Griffin, a musician and artist, hosts the program “Two Worlds” on the local community radio station, WMNF, which features Native American music. He may also play an ambassadorial role with the Seminoles of Florida. Another potential collaborator may be Chief Jim Billie , the Seminole’s new Chairman who is responsible for bringing a major powwow to Eckerd College and is an advocate for the arts.

The three primary individuals connected to this project – Professor Green, Mr. Griffin and Ms. B.E. Melendez, the Storyteller (the author of this article who was asked to document the production process) share African American and Indian ancestry. They all agree and with some regret that their Native American ancestry was rarely spoken of at home beyond a mention of names with few detailed stories. This project, this play may bring all of them closer to their roots.

Now that he’s read the play, Mr. Griffin is a part of it – in a way. In his meeting with Professor Green, he provided a powerful glimpse into Native American history in a conversation that felt something akin to taking a time traveler’s flight over a landscape of shifting images. In answer to a few very basic questions, he answered with great depth.

Native American or Indian? “Which is the correct term,” Professor Green begins. With this question it’s clear she wants to tread with respect into this project. The answers won’t be simple, easy or clear cut. Griffin explains, “It depends on who you’re talking to.” And he points out that these terms are problematic for their own reasons both having been superimposed on people who were never asked to define themselves.

Professor Green and Mr. Griffin shared that they were both drawn to the language of the play. Mr. Griffin was intrigued by how people this society barely pays attention to are given the opportunity to exist so forcefully for the time they are on stage. “They can’t be denied, because they’re in front of you,” he said.

Professor Green said she enjoyed how the playwright, Marcus Gardley, created an almost impossible task of staging with an uncharacteristically large cast. She liked the symbolism, finding the play “so poetic and I’m a poet.”

The conversation is off to a great start.

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