September 23, 2008
Philadelphia, PA - Arden Theatre Company presents the Philadelphia premiere of Gee's Bend
on the Arcadia Stage October 9 through December 7, 2008
. Featuring three determined women and interwoven with gospel music, Gee's Bend
is a deeply personal story of family, self-discovery and artistic expression. This production coincides with the exhibition of Gee's Bend, The Architecture of the Quilt
, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on display now through December 14. Arden Theatre Company is located at 40 N. 2nd Street, Old City Philadelphia. For tickets, call 215.922.1122 or visit www.ardentheatre.org
spans more than sixty years and three generations of women and embraces their stories of joy and heartbreak. The story begins in 1939. Born into poverty and hardship, Sadie Pettway, learned to quilt at her mother's side. While it was a domestic responsibility to quilt, the women of Gee's Bend also turned to quilting as a comfort from the harsh realities of racial indignities, spousal abuse, isolation, and despair.
In the 1960s, an Episcopal priest recognized their talents and commissioned a group of women to make quilts for Bloomingdales, Saks' Fifth Avenue and other large department stores. These quilts were well-crafted, but of standard design. Still undiscovered were the women's personal collections, the wildly individual, dynamic and expressive quilts of the women of Gee's Bend.
That all changed in 2002 when the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Tinwood Alliance of Atlanta organized The Quilts of Gee's Bend
exhibition. Since then, the women and their quilts have been featured and celebrated throughout the nation and described by The New York Times
as "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced."
The women of Gee's Bend and their quilts inspired playwright and Alabama native Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder to tell their story on the stage and the play was commissioned by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. She was embraced by the quilters, who openly shared their stories and history asking only one thing of Wilder, "just write it honest." The American Theatre Critics Association
recently recognized Elyzabeth and her work with the 2008 M. Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award
for an emerging playwright. Elyzabeth was living in LA writing for television but, inspired by her recent award, she recently moved home to Alabama to focus on playwriting. While she still commutes back & forth to LA, writing in Alabama fuels her plays.
The cast for Gee's Bend
includes Edwina Findley
as Sadie. Edwina's television credits include two seasons on HBO's The Wire
, Law and Order
, One Life to Live
, New Amsterdam
, and pilots for both NBC and FOX. She is also the founder of Abundant Life, an organization providing arts workshops for urban youth. Starring as Nella is Kayla Moses Baxter
, previously seen at the Arden as Berneice in The Piano Lesson
. Marjorie Johnson
is new to the Arden and will play the dual role of Alice and Alice's daughter, Asia. Johnson has appeared in episodes of Law and Order
, NYPD Blue
, As the World Turns
, The Boiler Room Duplicates
, Chrome Soldiers
and American Gangster
. Kes Khemnu
stars a Macon. Khemnu was most recently seen at the Arden as Boy Willie in The Piano Lesson
for which he has been nominated for a Barrymore Award for Best Leading Actor.
is new to the Arden but has directed 19 productions around the country in the last five years. Holdridge has directed productions at Alabama Shakespeare Festival where Gee's Bend
was first produced. In the past Eleanor has directed and taught students at the Yale School of Drama, NYU's graduate program and the Juilliard School, among others. Walter Dallas
returns to the Arden as the Music Director for Gee's Bend
. Last season, Dallas directed The Piano Lesson
at the Arden. This year, Dallas began a five-year guest-artist residency in the Theatre Department of the University of Maryland.
The History of Gee's Bend, Alabama
Gee's Bend is a small rural community nestled into a curve in the Alabama River southwest of Selma, Alabama. It was the site of cotton plantations, primarily the lands of Joseph Gee and his relative Mark Pettway, who bought the Gee estate in 1850. After the Civil War, the freed slaves took the name Pettway, became tenant farmers for the Pettway family, and founded an all-black community nearly isolated from the surrounding world. The five-mile long peninsula was eventually and slowly acquired by the descendants of the slaves that used to belong to the plantation's owner.
The community has a storied history with its county seat, the town of Camden, which lays across the Alabama River from Gee's Bend. The whites-only community of Camden, led by a racist sheriff, ceased ferry service between the two communities after a visit by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired a great deal of the Gee's Bend community to register to vote. From 1967 until just 2006, ferry service remained suspended, forcing the residents of Gee's Bend to travel over an hours worth of circuitous back roads to get to see the doctor, purchase medicine or shop.
The final dress rehearsal of Gee's Bend
on Wednesday, October 8 at 8pm
is open to the public as a Pay-What-You-Can performance, with all proceeds collected donated to The African-American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The Chamber's purpose is to enhance the growth and effectiveness of African American Owned businesses in the Delaware Valley, thereby improving the regional African American community. All seats are general admission, first come, first served.
previews begin on Thursday, October 9. Preview performances
run October 9, 10, 11, 12, and 14. Opening night is set for 7pm Wednesday, October 15. Single ticket prices are $29-$48
, with discounts available for seniors, students, military and educators. Groups of 10+ enjoy significant discounts; please inquire about group rates. Three show subscriptions for the 2008/09 season are still available and range in price from $69 - $195. Call the Arden Box Office at 215-922-1122, order online at www.ardentheatre.org
or visit the box office.
The Arden is wheelchair accessible and provides assisted listening devices and large-print programs at every performance. Reservations are required for accessible seating and may be made by calling the Arden's Box Office at 215.922.1122.
Written by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder
Directed by Eleanor Holdridge
October 9 - December 7, 2008
is a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit. The Pettway women of Gee's Bend
, Alabama are strong African Americans. Through segregation, family turmoil and the Civil Rights Movement, the women turn to quilting to provide comfort and context to their lives. These quilts, a labor of love and necessity, turn out to be valuable works of art. Featuring three determined women and interwoven with gospel music, Gee's Bend
is a deeply personal story of family, self-discovery and artistic expression.
This Philadelphia premiere coincides with the exhibition of Gee's Bend, The Architecture of the Quilt
, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art now through December 14.
Recommended for 8th/9th grade students and older.
Arden Theatre Company
40 N. 2nd Street, Old City Philadelphia
October 9 - December 7, 2008
Preview performances: October 9 – October 14
Opening night: 7pm Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Reviewing members of the press are invited to attend opening night and may reserve tickets by contacting Janine Zappone at firstname.lastname@example.org
$29-$48 for adults depending on the performance chosen
Group discounts available for 10+
Student Rush tickets at the door only five minutes before curtain for $5 cash, pending availability (must present valid student ID)
Call the Box Office at 215.922.1122 or visit www.ardentheatre.org
(resident of Brooklyn, NY) as Sadie
Kala Moses Baxter
(resident of Philadelphia, PA) as Nella
(resident of Roslyn, PA) as Macon
(resident of Bronx, NY) as Alice / Asia
- Music Director
Marjorie Bradley Kellogg
- Set Designer
- Lighting Designer
- Costume Designer
- Sound Designer
- Stage Manager