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Play Allows Youths to Act Out Black History

February 23, 1992|SUSAN PATERNO

During rehearsals for a play in Lynwood as part of African-American History Month, playwright LaVonne Anderson discovered that some of the children in the cast had more to learn than their lines.

"No one had explained to them what slavery was," Anderson said. "(The children) thought it was like a job."

Slavery is a crucial part of the play, said Anderson, who also directs the performance, which opens Friday night. So she tried to help them understand.

"Imagine you have chains on your legs," she said she told them.

"Why?" they asked.

"So you won't escape."

"Why would we want to escape?"

"Because this is not your regular 9 to 5!"

"Whoa," they said. "We really went through all that?"

Anderson also explained about working in cotton fields. "All they know are synthetic cotton balls. A lot of them were unaware that spirituals come from working in the cotton fields."

The play traces the history of blacks from African villages through slavery, jazz, gospel, civil rights and gangs. Students from Lynwood schools star in the 45-minute production, which "focuses on the most profound years of African-American history," Anderson said, as well as highlighting the musical contributions of black Americans.

Professional musicians Harvey Estrada (who has played with Stevie Wonder, Sarah Vaughn and Patrice Rushen) and Charlie Mack (who has produced Candy Man, TNT and Mix Master Spade) will perform the play's music, including pieces by Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Temptations and Stevie Wonder. Black Entertainment Television will broadcast portions of the performance to its subscribers.

Anderson, who works in public relations for the Lynwood city manager's office by day and at night sings professionally in local clubs, is most proud of the students' hard work. "We have kids who are 5 who are the most unbelievable singers!" she said. "All they needed was a chance to show what God gave them.

"There's a real need to show that (black people) are not just athletes," she said. "They're actors, singers, potential politicians. These kids really believe they can make a difference, that they can change the drugs and the gangs. It's up to the adults to develop those undeveloped talents."

Friday night's program will also include appearances by Adam Jeffries of television's "True Colors" and blues guitarist Lowell Fulson. April Sutton of Black Entertainment Television will host the evening's entertainment.

The show, titled "The Past and Present--Our Future Is Up to Us," begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Bateman Hall, 11331 Ernestine Ave., Lynwood.

On Saturday, Lynwood's black history celebration continues from noon to 5 p.m. with a fair, games, food and entertainment featuring actor Willard Pugh, the Los Angeles Children's Jazz Ensemble, the Ebony Flyers acrobatic team, West African Dancers, rappers Tunga Twist, Diamond, Poetic Justice, Zig and Zag and others, in Dymally Park, 3798 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Lynwood.

A portion of the vendors' fees will go to Lynwood High School's African American Student Union Scholarship Fundraising Program. Admission to both days' events is free.

For more information about the two-day, city-sponsored celebration, call the Lynwood Parks and Recreation Department at (310) 603-0220.

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