Frank Wittow’s Legacy…Nevaina’s Dream

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

The late great actor-director-educator Frank Wittow remains one of my favorite figures in Atlanta’s rich theatre history.  His work with the late, great Georgia Allen was second to none—He placed this multi-talented Black woman in a non-servant role on an Atlanta stage in the early 1960s when the city and indeed the nation were still grappling with the idea that maybe Black folk were more than just the servants of White folk. Georgia Allen had appeared in numerous films and theatre productions throughout the nation and on the campuses of Spelman and Clark Colleges, and Wittow was wise enough to recognize Allen’s superior gifts.  He was simply a different kind of White man. There were no syrupy and useless White liberal platitudes about race relations spewing out of his mouth—he just did what he wanted to do.

Now, Allen predated Wittow’s arrival in Atlanta and she had a much longer career, and to fully honor her contributions to all of the arts and to education would require writing a tome. So, I will save that project for a later date.  Much like Allen, however, Wittow directed, trained, and mentored some of the best performers on the planet and took theatre performances into Atlanta Public Schools throughout much of his life.  He did this almost to the day he died in 2006.  One of his younger protégées had the benefit of his training…

Her name is Nevaina Rhodes—her first name is pronounced “Nih-Von-yah” like “lasagna.”  The first time I saw her perform, I did not know she had any affiliation with Wittow.  When she told me her basic philosophy about acting there was something refreshingly new about her approach to her craft, but also something rather familiar…Let me explain…

You see, when I was growing up in Atlanta, an actor, a musician, a poet, an academic, an intellectual, was simply part of the community in which we all lived.  Importantly, you had to participate in the arts and the humanities, and it did not matter if you had talent or an exceptional intellect or not.  While I adore and admire many younger performers and scholars—and by younger, I mean anyone born after the Baby Boom—I find an increasing number of them who are quite insular; they have fewer connections to each other or with the folk in the communities where they live.  Unlike the Atlanta of my childhood, in recent years I have attended far too many functions filled with musicians, actors, poets, filmmakers, and historians and I end up being the only person in the room who actually knows everybody in that room…

Well, to make a long story short, Nevaina’s conceptualization of Real Actors Workshop (RAW) makes it open to amateur and professional alike.  Her basic theory is that whether you are a professional actor or not, all of us humans act and perform in certain ways depending on the circumstances.  In other words, she insists that, we all are actors. Although she is a North Carolinian by birth, her approach feels much like the Atlanta of my youth, where the long theatre traditions on the campuses of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and people like Georgia Allen and Frank Wittow made certain that theatre reached who it was supposed to reach—the people. We were not a community of strangers…everybody knew everybody, which is the way it should be.

I should add that I am writing this to inform you that Nevaina is not only a dazzling performer and an amazing drama coach, but she is also a real survivor. Native Atlantans, in particular, love people with a strong work ethic and those who bounce back when things do not always go as planned.  Less than five years ago, Nevaina miraculously and fully recovered from a stroke that could have easily killed her; and she remained positive while she also endured some personal losses that probably would have destroyed some weaker souls.

Today her Real Actors Workshop (RAW) is headquartered at Dream Café, Atlanta’s first cafe and empowerment lounge, which is owned by Nevaina and her partners, Jay White and Stevie Baggs.  Dream Café‘s premise is simple.  It is designed to be a place where artists, intellectuals, young and old folk can meet and greet and talk and achieve their dreams, over coffee and healthy food.  This concept and these young owners have my support not only because it feels familiar to me, but because it feels right…and it also feels rather cyclical…

Now, I am aware that my hometown has changed.  Nothing stays the same, nor should it stay the same.  Yet, there are some core elements that we must never lose—namely, the ability to connect with each other and exchange ideas.  Not even a semblance of community can survive if we lose this ability.  So, I am proud to call Nevaina a friend. It has been a great privilege to watch her perform; and I have been encouraged by her intellect, her big smile, and her big spirit…I am also certain that Wittow (and Allen) are watching her from that place where great souls go when they leave this earth…So, in honor of them and in honor of future generations, go visit the Dream Café, and write your dream on the wall. Àṣé!

To learn more about Real Actors Workshop (RAW), and Nevaina’s distinguished career as an actor, drama coach, and public speaker, click here: Nevaina Rhodes Inspirational Speaker and Drama Therapy Specialist.

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Robocall Revenge!

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

After listening to nearly 100 robocalls over the past three weeks emanating from an assortment of imbeciles who have no better sense than to believe that they are fit to run for public office in my hometown of Atlanta, I had my own “Have-A-Laugh-Friday” on one of my social media pages.  Just one of the things I do occasionally to break the tension.  Now, this does not mean that I will be posting or blogging something funny every Friday, or that I or anyone else needs to wait for Friday to laugh.  And this is also not done to harm the good reputations of the many wonderful members of the City Council who love Atlanta and do really great work—people like Ceasar Mitchell and Keisha Lance Bottoms who are accessible the whole year, have a great staff that responds to you (and not just at election time.)

Now, this is not a political endorsement.  I do not publicly endorse political candidates.  My mention of those two people is my personal observation of them over several years.  Vote for the candidate that best represents your interests, but I am rambling.  Back to the matter at hand—these insufferable robocalls.

For the past three weeks every time I got ready to raise my fork to my mouth, the phone rang.  Typically, I did not recognize the number on the Caller ID, so I let it go to voicemail.  Then before I could swallow my food, I would see the light blinking on my telephone that indicated that I had a message.  I would ignore these blinking lights save for the fact that it might be important.  I also had little choice but to turn off the ringers on all of my telephones, that is if I planned to eat or get any work done.  Now, when I listened to these messages, they all tended to sound something like this:

“Hello, I am ______________________, and I am a father with two children.  I am running for the school board because our children are our future.”

Or

“Hello, I am ________________________, and I am supporting _____________________ , for Atlanta City Council.  Atlanta can do better than the current….”

You are damn right Atlanta can do better which is why I have to seriously consider whether or not I am voting for you or for any candidate that believes that a barrage of phone calls is going to earn any potential voter’s trust, to say nothing of their vote.  Exactly who told these candidates that a torrent of pre-recorded robocalls that always occur around meals or when I am writing or doing research would send me or anyone else to the polls?

I do not think these political candidates are that out of touch—I do think some of them are dumb, dumb as cat s**t, dumb as a stump, dumb as a box of rocks, and as vacant as a white wall.  Some of them probably qualify as doofus—Go look up “doofus.”  It is now in the dictionary, and I am sure at least a few of these candidates have helped the authorities at Merriam-Webster refine its definition.

Now I could not ever imagine not voting.  Too many of my people fought and died for me to have that privilege.  I have to say that when I do go to vote on November 5, I really wish the voting machine had an option to write-in candidates whose names ARE NOT on the ballot.  If that option was available, I might just write in the name “Daffy Duck,” or “Porky Pig,” for at least one of the offices.  Hey, I might as well vote for someone that I could actually have for dinner—literally!

Now I know this blog will be obsolete very soon because November 5, 2013 is almost upon us.  Very soon, a few of these candidates will hold public office in Atlanta.  They will create laws about zoning and be responsible for formulating policies that determine the education of your children, our children.  God help us all!

So here is my suggestion.  I know a few people who make it a habit to call their elected officials on a regular basis, but too many of us do not make that effort.  We complain in every day conversations about something that needs fixing in city government, but soon we move on to another topic.  Yet, this is an opportunity to give them tit-for-tat.  Call these representatives when there is a street sign pointing the wrong way.  Call them to complain about a pothole in the street.  Hell, call them if you have got a hangnail and you just want to complain about how it stings every time you put your hand in dishwater.  They have no qualms about calling you with pre-recorded asinine messages that repeat the same horse manure; and worse, they do not seem to know or care how annoying it is.  Return the favor and maybe some of them will do the jobs our tax money pays them to do!

Peace!

Leslye Joy Allen is a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.