Saturday, March 1, 2014

'George Washington Carver and Friends' play, and one very busy actor, illustrate African American achievers

Antony Russell plays Jackie Robinson running the bases as he talks with Kate Rozycki, playing Dorothy.

Story and photos by Erin Grigson
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Two actors portrayed 10 characters in “George Washington Carver and Friends,” performed at Midway College on Sunday afternoon. One actor played nine characters, all notable African Americans.

Antony Russell is a 25-year-old actor who has worked for Bright Star Touring Theatre, based in Asheville, N.C., since January. In Sunday’s play, his major role was agricultural chemist George Washington Carver. Carver was known for developing more than 300 uses for peanuts, and that passion was portrayed in Russell’s performance.

In a series of costume changes, he played baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, potato-chip inventor George Crum (left), egg-beater inventor Willis Johnson, self-made cosmetics millionaire Madame C.J. Walker, heart surgeon Daniel Hale Williams, Cascade detergent inventor Dennis Weatherby, educator Booker T. Washington, and Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice. Those roles are pictured below in that order, ending with Carver.

Throughout the play and during Russell’s costume changes, Kate Rozycki, 23, played a young student named Dorothy, who was researching famous African American inventors and ground-breakers. Using what she called her “magic book,” she met all these people, all played by Russell. The character of Carver kept recurring, as Dorothy’s essay topic always came back to him.

Rozycki said in an interview, “At one of the shows the other day, (some adults) were like, ‘You made learning about all these people really fun.’ So this show is deceptively educational because maybe people don’t realize how much they’re actually learning.”

About 80 people were in the audience for the performance, most of them children. During the play, to teach the kids about the three branches of government, Rozycki chose three from the audience and brought them on stage. She then gave each of them a hat or wig to put on their head to designate them as a specific branch. A boy with a top hat represented the executive branch, a girl with a Ben Franklin wig represented the legislative branch, and a boy in a powdered wig represented the judicial branch. Meanwhile, Thurgood Marshall talked about his time as a lawyer arguing the Brown v. Board of Education case that ended school segregation.

Rozycki said she has been with the company since November of last year. On her last tour, she was the one with all the costume changes. In “A Dickens Tale,” she played all the characters except Scrooge.

For this play, though, Russell was the actor with hands full. However, he had some tricks up his sleeve.

“Sometimes you have to put on a lot of different accents to help out with that,” he said in an interview.

He said he has learned how to speak in several accents, including Jamaican, Trinidadian, African, Bostonian, and New Yorker.
Still, that didn’t make his job much easier when it came to all the costume changes he had to do in the hour-long play. During the question-and-answer session with the audience after the show, Rozycki complimented him, saying, “He did a good job. I didn’t have to stall once.”

After about 60 performances, it seems the pair should have it down to a science. In a little less than two months, Russell and Rozycki have performed this show anywhere between 50 and 70 times. And they still have a month to go.

Along with the Carver play, they are also currently performing “Struggle for Freedom: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King.” While the Carver show is more upbeat and interactive with the audience, the King play is more serious. In both, the pair enjoys working and performing together.

“I love how fun it is,” Russell said of the King play. “I think it’s so awesome that we’re able to give that to people and let people feel what it may have been during that time.”

Rozycki agreed, saying of the Carver play, “This is a fun show. It’s kind of goofy.”

The play was brought to Midway College by the Woodford County Public Library’s Lottie M. White Children’s Program Series.
Dorothy (Kate Royzcki) listens to agricultural chemist George Washington Carver (Antony Russell).

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