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Young Actors Learn Lines and Lineage in 'Back to Being Black'

February 23, 1988|KIRK JACKSON | Times Staff Writer

The life of a part-time actress can be hectic--even if she is only 14 years old. Take Tamieka Macon of Anaheim: Along with a full schedule of classes at Valencia High, not to mention a position on the school softball team, she's juggling a membership in the Lorraine Hansberry Young People's Acting Troupe, a 27-member group of 9- to 18-year-olds sponsored by the Orange County Black Actors Theatre.

"I barely watch TV anymore," she says.

Sunday at 4 p.m., the troupe will continue its observation of Black History Month with a production of "Back to Being Black," an allegorical drama dealing with self-esteem and self-awareness. It will be staged in Santa Ana, where it premiered last weekend.

The central character is a student named Me, who is running for office at his school. Me is preparing a speech to his classmates in which he will say, "I believe myself to be essentially colorless." He feels it's the best way to "represent all factions of the student body."

Tamieka plays Ebony, one of several characters trying to convince Me that he is "lost, brother" and should change his way of thinking. By reading the works of Langston Hughes, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni and other black poets, along with some original poetry and songs by the play's author, Zondra Ann Marshall, Ebony and the other characters succeed in getting Me to feel some "black pride."

Marshall says the message of her play is that it's okay--in fact, it's wonderful--to be black. "The purpose to the show," she says, is "to involve our children in learning about black history and some of the important characters who have been black and made a contribution."

"By accepting who you are and knowing who you are," adds co-director Adleane Hunter, "you have a stronger position from which to deal with the rest of the world."

Although many of the children had worked with the 3-year-old troupe before, there was some evidence of pre-performance jitters at Sunday's premiere. Lines were occasionally forgotten, and Marshall and Hunter sometimes had to shout instructions from backstage.

"Six weeks (for rehearsals) is not as much time as we would want, but it's as much time as we have," Marshall explained. But, she added, she is confident the actors "will have a strong sense of the play--and where they're supposed to be and what they're supposed to be doing--by next Sunday."

Macon seemed to have a good idea of her character. Ebony "cares about her heritage," she said, "and people look up to her." She noted that the character, like her name, symbolizes "the color black."

Kela Taylor, 18, of Fullerton also seemed to have a good grip on her role as Heritage, the character who coordinates Me's transformation ("I'm your birthright," she tells him. "I've been waiting for you.")

"She's a leader," Taylor said, who "has full knowledge of her background, and she wants to get people back to their roots."

Like the playwright, the children hope the play will send a message to blacks: that they need to better appreciate their own heritage. Too many blacks "want to be something else; they don't want to be what they really are," Taylor said. "Black people have a tendency to hold their heads down. But this play has helped me to hold my head up."


Sunday, 4 p.m.

Santa Ana City Hall Annex Auditorium.

Ross Street and Santa Ana Boulevard.

$5 adults, $3 children.

Information: (714) 667-7090

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