Attending “Gem of the Ocean” by Jamie Luchini

When considering what art event to attend for one of my entrepreneurship elective classes, I narrowed it down to a play or a comedy show due to my interests. When I found out that “Gem of the Ocean” was showing on campus at Lehigh in the Zoellner Arts Center, it was a no brainer to attend. The only way I would have known that this play was this week was when a few of my friends mentioned that they already saw it and it was very entertaining. This was my first ever play at Lehigh University in all four years I have been here so I figured why not.

Overall, the turnout was more than I would have anticipated on a weekend night, where I would assume few students would be spending their time. While I had zero knowledge of the play beforehand, it quickly gained my interest when I heard where it was based: my hometown, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; not to mention the incredible acting as well. I was very curious to learn more about the characters as the play went on. Although I have not attended many plays in my lifetime, I thought some performances stood out for sure. I thought Black Mary was magnificent. She portrayed her role very well and had a very strong personality which I felt was necessary for her character. I also thought Aunt Ester was fabulous. From her old lady grandma walk was on point, and she also was very enthusiastic and seemed to be genuinely interested to be playing her part. Additionally, I realize that there is limited space and I am assuming limited funds as well, but the stage crew did a great job setting up the play for opening night. For what they had tools wise, they sure made the most of it! In terms of what all was involved when going to the play, it was a unique experience for me, as once again, I have not been to many plays in my lifetime.

When I walked in, I had to find the ticket booth for the first time and pay five dollars for one ticket. For some reason, I was expecting that plays performed by Lehigh University would be free to all students, but I guess they have to cover their costs somehow. That may be a way to increase audiences in the future though if all plays are free for Lehigh University students who present their student IDs. Because attending this play was a last-minute decision, I never looked up online what the dress code may be, so I figured anything would be acceptable. In order to make a whole night out of it, I decided to eat at one of my favorite restaurants around Lehigh, Sal’s Brick Oven Pizza. Great food and short walking distance were just two of the reasons I decided to eat there before the play started at 7:30 pm.

The play itself lasted approximately two hours, with an intermission break a little past midway of the play. Food and drinks were not allowed in the theater, but several options were available before, at intermission, and after the play. Popcorn, sodas, water, and a variety of candy selections were available to the audience for only a dollar each. Afterwards, play staff displayed a variety of cheeses, meats, cookies, and fruits for the general audience to snack on. Much appreciated. All in all, I am curious to not just find out more about this play and who the actors and actresses were, but to look into future plays at Zoellner Arts Center as well. I enjoyed this experience and what this assignment made me realize that a lot of people in the local Bethlehem and Lehigh art community are very talented and make it entertaining to attend these kind of events.


August Wilson’s ‘Gem of the Ocean’ continues

The Lehigh University Department of Theatre’s run of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean continues April 13-16, 2016

“August Wilson at the top of his form—a touchstone for everything else he has written.”
~The New York Times

Photo from Lehigh University Brown and White

Photo from Lehigh University Brown and White

Lehigh University’s Department of Theatre continues its 2015-2016 season with the Award-winning playwright August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. Directed by Akin Babatundé, the Theodore U. Horger ’61 Artist-in-Residence for the Performing and Visual Arts, the performances will be held in Diamond Theater on April 8, 9 and 13-16 at 7:30pm; with a 2pm performance on Sunday, April 10. Tickets are $12 ($5 students) and available at  There is a special “Pay-What-You-Wish” performance on Wednesday, April 13 at 7:30pmContact Ticket Services for details.

Gem of the Ocean is the ninth play in Wilson’s ten-play Pittsburgh Cycle that chronicles a century of African American life, an unprecedented dramatic series that includes Fences and The Piano Lesson.  Set in Pittsburgh, PA in 1904, it is the eve of the 287th birthday of former slave, Aunt Ester, a keeper of tradition and a cleanser of souls.  When Citizen Barlow comes to her home seeking asylum and redemption, she sets him off on a poetic and spiritual journey to find the City of Bones at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, a repository of the memory and tragedy of the Middle Passage. According to Babatunde, “Celebrated playwright August Wilson has created an aunt, a mythical, uncanny, wise yet human figure in the character of Aunt Ester. Her home at 1839 Wiley is a place of release, rejuvenation and resurrection of purpose. She cocoons the legacy of tragedy, triumph and transformation of an enslaved people embodied in her 285 years of spiritual wisdom. I invite you to embrace the journey she may take you on this evening-a journey of revelation intertwined with hope, joy and recognition.”

Director Akin Babatunde’ is the Theodore U. Horger ’61 Artist-in-Residence for the Performing and Visual Arts at Lehigh University’s Department of Theatre, where he teaches. Babatundé, a native of Brooklyn, is an accomplished actor, director and writer whose theatrical career spans off-Broadway, regional theatre, film and television. He has been a resident company member of prestigious theatrical institutions throughout the country: Trinity Rep (Providence, Rhode Island), Alley Theater (Houston, Texas), La Mama Theater (New York City) and the Dallas Theater Center. He is founder and artistic director of Vivid Theater Ensemble of Dallas and founder of Ebony Emeralds Classic Theater Company. Babatunde’ was the first African American to direct for the Dallas Shakespeare Festival in the celebrated diverse production of Taming of the Shrew in 1993. As a writer, his work has been commissioned by Florida Stage, La Mama Theater, the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, Brown University, the Black Academy of Arts and the and Core Ensemble. His most recent work Shakespeare – Midnight Echoes tours in Texas paying homage to black performing artists who performed Shakespeare from slavery to the present. He has toured extensively with Core Ensemble in Of Ebony Embers – Vignettes of the Harlem Renaissance. His one-man show, Before the Second Set – A Visit with Satchmo has received critical acclaim at theaters across the country. Babatundé along with Dr. Alan Govenar wrote and starred in Blind Lemon Blues, which toured in Europe (Paris, Geneva, Brussels, Amsterdam) and received rave notices in The New York Times at its 2004 New York premiere at Central Park’s Summer Stage. His television appearances include Law and Order and the PBS family-oriented literary television series, Wishbone. Babatundé’s work has been awarded a Dallas Observer Best Actor Award (the first African American to receive this distinction), 1991, 2004, 2015 Dallas Critics Forum Award, the 2004 Legacy of Success, and the Alvin Ailey Performing Arts Award. He received the prestigious Individual Artists Grant from the Palm Beach County Cultural Council to create a new work Harvest of Voices based on oral histories. He is a renowned arts educator, having undertaken five long-term artist residencies in underserved communities in Florida, creating new music theatre works alongside at-risk teens and community members. Theatre impresario Ellen Stewart of LaMama Theatre describes him as “one of those rare geniuses who comes into our lives.” Babatundé holds a Master of Arts degree in Arts and Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas.  Babatunde’ is the brother of Tony Award nominated and Emmy Award-winning actor Obba Babatunde’.

August WilsonAugust Wilson (April 27, 1945 – October 2, 2005) authored Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney, King Hedley II, and Radio Golf. These works explore the heritage and experience of African-Americans, decade-by-decade, over the course of the twentieth century. His plays have been produced at regional theaters across the country and all over the world, as well as on Broadway. In 2003, Wilson made his professional stage debut in his one-man show, How I Learned What I Learned. Wilson’s works garnered many awards including Pulitzer Prizes for Fences (1987); and for The Piano Lesson (1990);a Tony Award for Fences; Great Britain’s Olivier Award for Jitney; as well as eight New York Drama Critics Circle Awards for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, Jitney, and Radio Golf. Additionally, the cast recording of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom received a 1985 Grammy Award, and Wilson received a 1995 Emmy Award nomination for his screenplay adaptation of The Piano Lesson. Wilson’s early works included the one-act plays The Janitor, Recycle, The Coldest Day of the Year, Malcolm X, The Homecoming and the musical satire Black Bart and the Sacred Hills.

The cast features Lehigh University professors Kashi Johnson as Aunt Ester and Darius Omar Williams as Solly Two Kings, Lehigh University students Ovie Ojeni (Citizen), Kelly Petty, Jr. (Eli), Donavon Harris (Caesar), Ryan Higgins (Rutherford Selig), Katie Pettis (Black Mary), with Josiah Murrell, Jamir Connelly and Jamal Connelly as Ensemble of Bones along with LU staff member Karen Sims.

The design team includes, Andrew Southard, production manager; Matt Faragrasso, assistant technical director; professor Erica Hoelscher costume and set designer; Pam Richey, costume coordinator; Laura Bickford, lighting design; Phil Ingle, sound designer; Sara Vreeland, stage manager; and Jamil Barillas, assistant stage manager.

For further reading:
More about Babtunde’s residency in the Lehigh University College of Arts and Science blog post, Master Class.
Lehigh’s Brown and White also produced this preview for your interest.
More about the production at the Lehigh University Communications article here.

Tickets to Gem of the Ocean are available for $12 ($5 students/$10 Lehigh faculty & staff). There is a special “Pay-What-You-Wish” performance onWednesday, April 13 at 7:30pm.  For information, call 610-758-2787, ext. 0, visit Zoellner Ticket Services, Tuesday 12-6 pm, Wednesday – Friday from 12 –5 pm, 2 hours before curtain, or order online.  Senior, student, group and LVAIC discounts are available.

LU Jazz Rep & Nicole Henry on April 16th at 8pm

Nicole Henry

“There’s plenty for jazz and funk fans to savor here, and Warfield’s Hell’s Kitchen Funk Orchestra delivers a tasty meal for the ears.”
~Bill Milkowski, contributor to Down Beat & Jazziz

“Vocalist Nicole Henry pleasingly brings together a range of styles—smooth and mainstream jazz, along with pop and gospel.”
~ All About Jazz

Lehigh University Music Department presents its annual spring jazz performance with Bill Warfield and the Hell’s Kitchen Funk Orchestra featuring vocalist Nicole Henry with Lehigh University Jazz Repertory Orchestra on April 16 at 8pm in Baker Hall. Tickets are $15; general admission. WDIY is the Lehigh University Music Department media sponsor.

Nicole long Badgley Mischka dress 2015 - by Rafael BalcazarSM 1Nicole Henry has established herself as one of the jazz world’s most acclaimed vocalists, possessing a potent combination of dynamic vocal abilities, impeccable phrasing, and powerful emotional resonance. Her passionate, soulful voice and heart-felt charisma has earned her a 2013 Soul Train Award for “Best Traditional Jazz Performance,” three Top-10 U.S. Billboard and HMV Japan jazz albums. Heralded by The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Japan Times, El Pais, Jazz Times, Essence and more, Henry tells real stories through repertoire from the American Songbook, classic and contemporary jazz, contemporary standards, blues and originals.

She has captivated audiences in over 15 countries, headlining at venues in cities including New York, Tokyo, Madrid, Moscow, Paris, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Miami. Ms. Henry has also performed in more than 30 music festivals worldwide and in some of the world’s most famous venues including Blue Note, NYC; Jazz at Lincoln Center; Blues Alley; Arsht Center; Feinstein’s; Green Mill; Madrid Jazz Festival; the Regattabar; and Catalina Jazz.

Bill playingBill Warfield, since his 1988 opus, the New York City Jazz, trumpeter-composer-arranger has been widely known as a dyed-in-the-wool big band guy culminating in last year’s Trumpet Story, with special guest Randy Brecker. This time out, Warfield had something completely different in mind. As he explained, “The original idea was to do a mid ‘60s Miles kind of thing, and as I got more into it and started thinking about it, my roots are really in rhythm ‘n’ blues. All the bands I played in growing up in Baltimore were Motown bands and funk bands and Atlantic Starr kinds of bands. Baltimore is like the Oakland of the East Coast in that regard. That funky side of things is well represented on this project dubbed ‘The Hell’s Kitchen Funk Orchestra’ by their intrepid leader, who resides in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. But to call it just a funk band is far too limiting for this remarkably versatile outfit. Indeed, few other bands have the wherewithal to go from Joe Zawinul to Tito Puente, Fats Waller, Eddie Harris and Snarky Puppy in a single record.

Warfield has released nine previous albums leading his own ensembles and has appeared in the horn sections of numerous other albums, including two by the acclaimed Bill Kirchner Nonet. Over the years he has performed with such artists as Ornette Coleman, Mel Torme, Mel Lewis, David Liebman and Sonny Stitt. He received a commission from the Spanish government to arrange and produce “Hollywood Jazz” for the 1992 Olympics in that country, and has also been commissioned by the Berlin Radio Orchestra and the US Air Force “Airmen Of Note.” In addition, Warfield is the founder and director of the New York Jazz Repertory Orchestra as well as its offshoot, the New York Jazz Octet, and also the Lehigh Valley Jazz Repertory Orchestra.

Tickets for April 16 are $15; free for Lehigh students.  For more information, call 610-758-2787, ext. 0 or visit Zoellner Ticket Services, Tuesday 12-6 pm, Wednesday – Friday from 125 pm, two hours before curtain, or online at  Senior, student, group and LVAIC discounts are available.