Trio of free Staged Readings directed by Tony F. Sias of Karamu House held at Oberlin College’s Irene and Alan Wurtzel Theater on June 23, 24, and 25
As communities across the country, and in Northeast Ohio begin the many celebrations surrounding Juneteenth, the federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, nationally acclaimed playwright, and novelist Ifa Bayeza is currently writing a drama, The Rescue of John Price, and will premiere free staged readings with an accomplished cast and crew at the Irene and Alan Wurtzel Theater at 67 Main Street on the campus of Oberlin College, June 23, 24,25, 2023 at 7:00 pm.
Bayeza has been commissioned by The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue Theater Project founded by Pat Spitzer and her husband automotive business leader Alan Spitzer to complete the play in 2024. Based on historical events, The Rescue of John Price is about a runaway slave who in 1858 traveled from Kentucky to the abolitionist sanctuary and utopian college town of Oberlin, at the height of the frenzy over the Fugitive Slave Act. When slave catchers threatened to kidnap John back into slavery, hundreds of Oberlin and Wellington citizens led by a revolutionary group of rescuers prevented his capture and helped him on his quest for true freedom.
“Through this distilled dramatization of the rescue of this one man from the ravages of slavery, I hope that audiences will ponder today, the pivotal role, the essential role, that African Americans have played in the making of this nation and the fulfillment of its promise,” said Bayeza. “That journey, from enslavement to freedom, which has been hard-fought and is ongoing, has brought benefit to all lovers of democracy.”
Tony F. Sias, the CEO & President of the Karamu Performing Arts Center in Cleveland is the director of the anticipated drama and the staged readings. “The Rescue of John Price is not just entertainment,” said Sias. “It’s about educating the community about this historically seminal moment in time.”
Bayeza is also educating the community by conducting several workshops, discussions, interviews, and a host of other activities, She also hopes to get feedback about her work thus far. On Monday, June 19, the official Juneteenth Holiday, there will be a “Conversation with Ifa” at the Burrell House in Sheffield, Ohio Metroparks. This landmark is the last known location where John Price stayed before being whisked to freedom in Canada.
The event is hosted by The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue Theater Project and the Lorain County Racial Equity Center and the African American Fund, an affiliate fund of the Community Foundation of Lorain County.
Considering our current cultural climate, Bayeza added that we can all learn from The Rescue of John Price. “The respectful and earnest collaboration of Oberliners, white and black, men and women, old and young in creating what was almost a utopia, one that we struggle to envision even today, is central to this story – people of all backgrounds, persuasions, and experiences, living and working together for the progress of all.”
Oberlin-Wellington Rescue Theater Project Co-Founder Pat Spitzer conceived the idea of creating a play about a historic event even 30 years ago and is thrilled Bayeza is bringing that vision to life. “For progress to be made, we must work together. I think people want to walk the walk with this history. I would just like to see the day when everybody wants to help everybody. That’s the ultimate goal.”
This summer’s staged readings of The Rescue of John Price are made possible by a generous legacy gift from the Fischer Family (Michael and Susann), in honor of the late Gay Fischer, who cherished her years at Oberlin College in the 1950s. Ifa’s community events are thanks to support from the Community Foundation of Lorain County. Free tickets for the staged readings are available on the website, owrproject.org, or through Eventbrite. For other community events, go to: owrproject.org/events
ABOUT IFA BAYEZA
Ifa Bayeza is an award-winning playwright, director, novelist, and educator. Plays include THE TILL TRILOGY (The Ballad of Emmett Till, That Summer in Sumner and Benevolence); String Theory; Welcome to Wandaland; Infants of the Spring; the musicals Charleston Olio, Bunk Johnson … a blues poem and KID ZERO and the novel, Some Sing, Some Cry, co-authored with her sister Ntozake Shange. A finalist for the 2020 Herb Alpert Award in Theatre and for the 2020 Francesca Primus Prize, Bayeza is the recipient of two commissions from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a 2022 MacDowell fellowship. Bayeza holds an MFA in Theater from UMass Amherst and is a graduate of Harvard University. The TILL TRILOGY (The Ballad of Emmett Till, That Summer in Sumner, and Benevolence) made its world premiere, in rotating repertory, at Mosaic Theatre Company of DC in October 2022.