It has taken six years of collaborating and tweaking while performing it, but actress, singer and dancer Jasmine Guy and bassist and composer Avery Sharpe have created what Guy calls "this magical journey through the Harlem Renaissance."
Guy and Sharpe and his jazz trio take East Tennessee residents on the sojourn called "Raisin' Cane: A Harlem Renaissance Odyssey," an homage to the voices of the Harlem Renaissance, Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 7:30 p.m. at the Wellmont Regional Center for the Performing Arts at Northeast State Community College, Blountville, Tennessee.
Inspired by the 1923 novel "Cane" by Jean Toomer and the works of Renaissance authors, including Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, "Raisin' Cane" "is a sweet tribute to Harlem's glory days," The Arizona Daily Star says.
The multimedia performance is set in 1920s Harlem, New York. The rise of the African-American art scene had been developing since the turn of the century, and with the return of hope-filled African-American soldiers from World War I, the Harlem Renaissance began. Artists, musicians and writers, such as Toomer, Hughes, Countee Cullen, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and many others, became the voice of a generation – a generation struggling with the past but hopeful for the future.
"The Harlem Renaissance is a period of the arts and artwork that I have always found to be very powerful," says Anita DeAngelis, director of Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, which is bringing "Raisin' Cane" to the region. "There's a little bit in this performance for a lot of different audiences. It will be a total immersion in that unique time in America."
Guy acts as a storyteller, guiding the audience through the ebullient period of the Harlem Renaissance in what the Dayton Daily News wrote is a "lively, informative, motivating and entertaining" performance.
Guy is a regular presence on the stage as well as in film and television, recent works including, "The Vampire Dairies" and stage work in "Chicago," "Grease" and "The Wiz." She also starred in "A Different World" for which she won six consecutive NAACP Image Awards and since then has written and directed numerous projects.
"I love doing this show," Guy said in a recent D.C. Metro Theatre Arts interview. "It's so much fun. It's clear, and it gives you a lot of information and in a very entertaining way. You just kind of get lost in the times and what it felt like to be alive back then, "a new negro.'
"This was the decade of the "new negro,' where blacks were moving to the big city and stripping off their overalls and work boots and putting on hats and gloves and going to the Savoy and being lovely."
Using imagery, movement, music, song and literature, "Raisin' Cane" transports audience members to the Savoy or a Harlem speakeasy for a lively evening, chockfull of poetry, painting, jazz music and dance – all the arts that were in full flower during that renaissance.
Written and conceived by Harry Clark and performed by the Avery Sharpe Trio, Sharpe also wrote the original score. Sharpe is considered one of the best jazz bassists of his generation. For "Raisin' Cane," he is joined by percussionist Kevin Sharpe and violinist Diane Monroe.
The compilation and collaboration of so many minds and hearts have resulted in what the New York Amsterdam News calls "exquisite edutainment."
"We have such a good time," Guys says. "It's a very uplifting show that we can celebrate all of this beauty together and claim it as our own."
And the educational aspect is indeed an important factor in why Guy, Sharpe and cast continue to travel the country "raisin' cane."
"The only reason I'm doing this play is that it reaches other people, and it reaches young people too," Guy said in an interview with AltDaily.
"We've got to be giving our people more [than we] come from than slavery and gangsters."
Tickets are $5 for students of all ages with ID, $20 for seniors 60 and over and $25 for general admission. Call 423-439-8587 or visit www.etsu.edu/martin.