Toschia Moffett was insistent: “We have to learn from our history,” she said amid the arrival of cast members in the parlor of Vive Les Arts Theatre in Killeen. “Music and theater facilitate that learning experience.”
Moffett’s manifesto, accompanied by a smile, defined Wednesday’s rehearsal for “Voices From Slavery,” a re-enactment in narrative and song. The script is an unaltered transcript from actual interviews conducted in the late 1920s and ’30s with 500 former slaves, Moffett said. “This was a (Works Progress Administration) project that employed college students as interviewers. The ex-slaves were age 84 to 100 at the time of the interviews.”
Moffett’s presentation has been a pet personal project for about 10 years. “We staged it at Fort Hood and had a tremendous response. We have selected words from ex-slaves with a Texas connection for our show.”
“Voices” will be presented as part of Juneteenth festivities at the Bob Gilmore Senior Center on Saturday with Moffett and three other actors recreating the American era that encompassed that “peculiar institution.” The authentic words from the formerly enslaved African-Americans will be recited in character and in period-appropriate costumes, Moffett said.
“After the spoken words, we’ll sing a hymn,” she added. “The show moves right along and lasts 25 to 30 minutes.”
Brianna Buchanan, a 16-year-old Copperas Cove High School student, was studying her script and brushing up on the century-old dialect required. A Fort Hood Youth Volunteer of the Year, her clear singing voice added a poignancy to the tales of hardship and fear.
Lt. Kevin Claiborne is a veteran stage manager at VLA and Temple Civic Theatre, and was in the cast for “Voices” for the Fort Hood production.
Kathryn Quirk, the fourth ensemble member, has been in more than 30 shows at VLA, including the Moffett-helmed “Caroline, Or Change.” That show broke new ground for the local community theater scene, with its compelling depiction of the civil rights years through the eyes of a black domestic employed by a Southern Jewish family.
“Voices” is under the VLA umbrella, and Moffett is a member of the nonprofit’s board. Saturday’s show at the Bob Gilmore Senior Center is free and open to the public, she said.
As the cast delivered the words spoken and recorded nearly 100 years ago, a clear and fascinating narrative arc was revealed. By judicious selection and sequencing, the plain spoken remembrances of the former slaves form a genuine theatrical experience, and that’s what Moffett has in mind.
“We want audiences to understand black history. We’ve got a ways to go — but we’ve made progress.”