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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

'Sweet Jenn' production blends slave narratives, conversation
Feb. 23 debut at Matthews Playhouse
 
Published Monday, February 18, 2019 12:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | MATTHEWS PLAYHOUSE
Lakeetha Blakeney stars in “Sweet Jenn,” which plays Matthews Playhouse Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m.

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Approach complicated conversations with childlike curiosity.


Creative Lakeetha Blakeney wrote “Sweet Jenn: A Living Exhibit” as a window into the world of Jenny Butler, an enslaved woman in the antebellum South.  Matthews Playhouse presents the show, which won Best Original Script at the 2018 Atlanta Black Theatre Festival, on Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $5 and the presentation is recommended for ages 5 and up.


Creating “Sweet Jenn” took roughly three years. While Jenny is a fictional character, her story draws inspiration from real figures.


“I spent two years researching female slave narratives from North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Virginia,” Blakeney said. “Then I picked six women, took their stories and merged them together to create this one woman, Jenny Butler. Everything Jenny talks about happening to her did happen to someone.”


Blakeney also includes familial elements in the piece.


“One of the characters in the show is named for my third or fourth great grandmother, Lucy Harris,” she said, adding that including her serves as what Blakeney describes as “paying homage to her survival.”  


“It is because of it that I am here,” Blakeney said. “I am able to write this play. It took me a while, too, because I had to stop because the stories are so heavy and I needed to step away from it and then come back to it. Those characters would keep talking, so I would have to get back up and start to write again.”


“Sweet Jenn” has evolved from a one-person show to include multiple people—contracting and expanding as Blakeney sees fit.


“It sparks conversation that needs to be had about the time period,”she said. “We have to talk about it. I didn’t write it to make anyone angry. I didn’t write it to make anyone feel guilty. I wrote it to spark conversation, because we have to talk to one another. We have to understand one another.”


Following the performance, there will be a conversation.


“After the show, we do a 10-15 minute talk-back,” Blakeney said. “It usually goes beyond that.”


Blakeney was initially concerned about how the show would be perceived by children in elementary school who may not fully grasp the treatment of African Americans during that point in time.


“We were at the Charlotte Museum of History,” she said. “These kids were 9-10, maybe a little younger, and their questions were amazing because they were not afraid to ask the question. They didn’t have that wall that adults have built up. They were not apprehensive. They were not embarrassed. They didn’t have any preconceived notions that I might feel offended by whatever they may ask. They just simply asked the question, and I simply answered it. They were with me the whole time. They were not jittery or fidgety. They were with me, and I was like, ‘wow, I guess younger kids can handle it.’ They can handle a lot more than we give them credit for.”


Blakeney interacts with students on a daily basis, but in her case, they are older.  She is the theater/arts director at Lake Norman High School.


“We are currently in rehearsals for our spring musical, which is ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,’ which opens March 6,” Blakeney said. “I get to school roughly around 7:15 a.m., and I leave roughly around 7:30 p.m.”


On the Net:


www.matthewsplayhouse.com/shows/upcoming-shows/sweet-jenn-a-living-exhibit

Comments

Powerful... Not able to travel much anymore but would love to see it ??!!!
Posted on February 20, 2019
 
Blakeney is a treasure: a truly multi-talented, passionate, inspired woman with so much to say, yet so willing to listen. We are honored to at our high school.
Posted on February 19, 2019
 
I saw play in Mt Holly Municipal building on the February 17th and it was informative and very thought provoking. Loved it!
Posted on February 19, 2019
 

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