The Resurrection of Harriet Tubman
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The Resurrection of Harriet Tubman

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The best kept secret in music


"The Resurrection of Harriet Tubman"

The Resurrection of Harriet Tubman in Escape to Freedom
A review by Jamila Dawson

In the intimate setting of the Two Roads Theater in Studio City, Harriet Tubman lives again. The theme of the evening: “people helping people” is what Tubman’s remarkable life was all about.
Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux brings a remarkable presence to her portrayal of Harriet Tubman. As she moves down the center of the aisle, her powerful husky voice and stooped posture convey the great strength and age of Tubman, who lived to be 93 years old.
Harriet Tubman was born enslaved around the year 1820. After she gained her freedom, she became a ‘conductor’ on the Underground Railroad. While the Underground Railroad was not an actual structure, it was a means by which Whites, freed Blacks, Abolitionists, and Quakers helped enslaved people gradually make their way North. The amazing thing about these people is that though they faced terrible risk in helping fugitive slaves they did it simply because they believed that slavery was wrong.
Dressed in a bonnet, and a patchwork of skirts and petticoats, Thibodeaux takes the audience from Tubman’s youth all the way through her military career. We learn of Tubman’s eventual arrival in the North and her simple yet life-altering decision to return to the South again and again to bring back her parents, siblings, and well over 300 other people with dreams of liberty. During the Civil War, not only was Tubman a spy against the Confederacy but she was also the only woman in U.S. history ever to lead men into battle.
The range of Thibodeaux’s emotions are wonderfully authentic and varied: Humorous, as she depicts the clever ways that Tubman outsmarted her would-be captors, poignant when she recalls that her desire for literacy ultimately eluded her, and deadly earnest when she tells of the time when she was prepared to kill a runaway slave who wanted to go back to the plantation.
To set the tone, saxophonist Tony Brewer begins the play with a sweet, molasses-slow medley of spirituals. The sparse stage dressing, subtle lightning, and simple props by Sara Rogalski and Jessica Lester, respectively, go a long way in evoking the atmosphere while keeping the focus on Thibodeaux. The main props are emblematic of Harriet Tubman’s life, a bag of clothing, a lamp, and a rifle.
Audience energy and participation were key to Thibodeaux’s performance. One of my favorite parts of the play was when “Harriet” turns her rifle on the audience, demands that we raise our right hands and take the Reading Oath; which is a promise to read everyday and help someone else to read where and when we can. Another one of the highlights of the evening was the Q & A session immediately following the performance. There were a myriad of questions and Ms. Thibodeaux’s responses were knowledgeable and filled with humor. It was clear that she has a passion for education.
An unexpected treat occurred when Ms. Thibodeaux called a young lady onto the stage. 12 year-old Amari Coale O'Bannon, a local student, gave a “word portrait” about the life of the first African American female aviator, Bessie Coleman. I learned that her piece began as a school project that she researched and wrote herself and which earned her an A+. It was developed into a performance that she has done throughout Los Angeles. Strikingly, Amari was born the same day as Bessie Coleman. As Amari stood there on stage in her khaki jacket, cap, and boots, I was proud and delighted to see someone of this new generation researching her heritage, and then sharing with others what she had learned.
It is apparent both in watching Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux and in speaking with her that her great gift and talent rests in spreading literacy. She is based in Houston, Texas and is a docent at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum where she performs the Harriet Tubman piece as well as other plays on the lives of influential African American heroines. She is one the foremost experts on Harriet Tubman and Harriet Tubman Resurrected is listed with the “Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Study” whose literacy programs won her the Rene Castillo OTTO award in 2004. She has performed in elementary schools, libraries, bookstores, and universities around the country. One of her most recent presentations was a command performance for two hundred 4th, 5th, and 6th graders requested by Dr. Francine Williams, principal of Cleveland Elementary School in Pasadena
Harriet Tubman Resurrected was a complete pleasure from beginning to end. The eventual abolition of slavery was an accumulation of both small and large acts of bravery on the part of vast numbers of people. Parents and children will all come away with something meaningful after seeing this play. I had fun and I left the theater educated and inspired. Most importantly, I took away a renewed belief that we can all effect change.
To learn more about Ms. Thibodeaux’s work or to book her show, - LA Watts Times. Oct. 2006


SEE PICTURES IN MEDIA - Harriet Tubman (Melissa....) answers questions from Megs Smith (8) and Cade Smith (5) after a performance at the Crossroads Theater in Studio City, California.

Photo Credit: Brigman Foster-OwensCD - The Resurrection of Harriet Tubman (Maine UGRR-CD)- Lecture and Performance - 2006

"Harriet Tubman" at the Rothko Chapel, Houston, TX- Available in Audio-CD and Video-DVD - 2005

DVD- "The Resurrection LIVE in Hollywood"-Classroom Performance - 2006

BOOK - The Underground Reading Railroad by M.W. Thibodeaux - A look at what our children of today know about their history- 2005

"The Story of A Saint Named Harriet Tubman" by M. W. Thibodeaux - 2004

"American Herstory-Pt. 1"- The Story of Black Women involved in the U. S. Military - 2007


Feeling a bit camera shy


Educational Entertainment -Teaching history via theatrics! Trained professionals go inside the schools and colleges to teach history, social science and humanities to students and instructors via actual historical characters.Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux (Actor/Storyteller/Playwright) a graduate of the performing arts who has performed for audiences for the past 30 years attempting to teach history via theatrics. Her portrayal of “The Resurrection of Harriet Tubman in Escape to Freedom” has been recognized and accepted as one of the regional programs for the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Study for the Intermountain Region in 2004. This artist portrays a variety of historical characters from the pages of history books and provides performances to colleges, schools, churches conferences and festivals. She is a recipient of the prestigious OTTO Award for Political Theater in New York City at the Rene Castillo All Stars Project for her work with incarcerated youth in Houston, Texas. Her new show, “Meet Mrs. Rosa Parks” was a finalist in last year’s Diversity showcasing at the college level and her performances are continually requested by a multitude of universities/colleges, community organizations, corporate and military entities. Her newest show tells the story of Bessie Coleman, the first African American Female pilot, in “Queen Bess” and her riveting account of “Cathay-The Female Buffalo Soldier”

Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux-Historical Re-enactor/Lecturer
This Actor/Storyteller/Playwright has performed for over 40 years in various venues throughout the U.S. such as Coastal Georgia, Alcorn State, Jackson State University, University of Houston, Prairie View University, Texas Southern University, Lon Morris College, McNeese College, College of the Mainland, Galveston College, Blinn College, University of Southern California, Fort Hood, TX, DuSable Museum in Chicago, IL, Blacks In Wax Museum- Baltimore, MD, Southern University, Temple University, Tinsley Temple, and The Paul Roberson House-Philadelphia, PA, NAACP Annual Conventions (Washington, DC last performance July 2006), Fort Riley, KS, The D.E.O.M.I. Military School, African American Museum of Philadelphia, UJIMA Black Theater-NYC, Harriet Tubman Home-Cambridge, MD, UGRR Symposium-Greenwich, NY, Long Island, NY, Jefferson City, MO and Portland, ME. She began Flying Geese Productions in 1997 to teach history via theatrics, as well as encourage literacy and enlighten her audiences on historical facts. Take a trip back in time as M. Waddy Thibodeaux takes you on a journey into the past to make sense of today’s issues. Her thought-provoking lecture/re-enactment programs are followed with a Q&A, interactive discussion with the audiences.