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January 16, 1990 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 1990-01-16

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily

Tuesday, January 16, 1990

Page 9

Palaver acts out interracial

BY DONNA IADIPAOLO
6"4IMY origin or the beginning to
perform really came out of a real
need and real results. You sang for
your food. So it was very tangible."
As Peggy Pettitt talks about how
theater was a necessary part of her
life, her deep brown eyes convey a
certain candor in her story. Pettitt's
strong look directly meets your's
when she speaks. But it's not intim-
idating. In a mystical way she al-
lows you to become more intimate
with her story.
"My grandmother was a very avid
storyteller. She could remember po-
ems and stories that had been passed
on to her through the years."
But "singing for her supper" and
storytelling are not the only reasons
Pettitt became involved in theater.
She uses her life experiences when
drawing forth specific powerful emo-
tions on stage.
"What I saw was that because of

listening to these stories - having
been told by my stepfather stories
about witnessing his own brother's
lynching - sometimes my subtext,
or my ability to go to real context,
rather then trying to make it happen,
rather then going off in a corner to
bring tears to my eyes, some things
were much more accessible to me."
And Pettitt certainly works on
plays filled with emotions. Palaver,
created by New York actors Pettitt
and Louise Smith, focuses on the re-
lationship between two friends, one
Black and one white, and examines
their common history as college
roommates in the early '60s, look-
ing back through their adult years
and through the broader history of
their heritages. Pettitt (Jeneatte) and
Cora Hook (Frances) play the two
women of different ethnic back-
grounds, who explore the clich6s
embodied by U.S. perspectives on
Africa.
Pettitt emphasizes that Palaver

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has been an "organic work integrat-
ing movement and environment" on
stage from the beginning, as well as
in the play's creation. Directors, vi-
sual designers, choreographers, and
actors have always viewed the play
as a cooperative collaboration. And
success is clear through the response
with which their play has been met.
Palaver was first performed last
April at "Parallel and Intersection: A
Conference on Racism and other
Forms of Oppression" in New York.
Pettitt said that after the perfor-
mance, over 500 women stood on
their feet, giving one of the most in-
credible responses she had witnessed
in her 15-year involvement with the-
ater in New York.
"But what I learned from that ex-
perience and what I learned through-
out is people who are actively in-
volved and struggling with the is-
sues of racism, whether it's a per-
sonal relationship, social/political
relationship, whatever, but if they're
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"
riendship
actively struggling with that, they
respond to Palaver in very con-
nected ways."
The play also had a successful
run in May as part of the Deselka
Festival, and since then has been
performed for many other audiences.
Pettitt has worked as an actor and
artistic collaborator with Modern
Times Theater, performed with the
Obie Award-winning New York
Street Theater Caravan, as well as in
the Theater for the Forgotten. She
was also featured in the title role of
the film Black Girl, for which she
received national acclaim and a nom-
ination for an NAACP Image Award
as best actress.
Pettitt is clear about her philoso-
phy concerning theater. She believes
it can be used to lend a voice to peo-
ple who are often voiceless, as well
as a vehicle for exploring and creat-
ing. And while her life may have al-
ways been connected with theater,
she has also been motivated in com-
bating racism through her work.
"It's not a small thing for Black
and white to create something to-

Peggy Pettitt plays Jeneatte in Palaver, a play to be performed tonight as
part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium.

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gether, to work together, to produce
something," says Pettitt. "It's much
harder to see a project through, Black
and white together, to see something
completed, well done. It's much
harder to do that then it is to go at
each other."
And that's what Palaver really
means.
"It's a dialogue between two cul-
tures," say Pettitt. "I'd like to think
of it as an active dialogue between

two cultures."
PALAVER is being performed at the
Mendelssohn Theatre tonight at 8
p.m. Tickets are $5 at the Union
Ticket Office and at the door. The
production is sponsored by the
Women's Studies Program, Center
for the Continuing Education of
Women, American Culture, De-
partment of Theatre, Center for
Afro-American and African Stud-
ies, and the Department of English

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