Taste Of ‘Harlem Renaissance’ Exhibit Headed To Spady Museum

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Go back in time to the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ during special exhibit

By: Jan Engoren Contributing Writer

Ever want to go back in time and experience a day in the life of someone else? Spady Museum is making that possible this month with a new exhibit “Harlem Renaissance.”

Put on a pair of ocular goggles and enter a virtual Harlem. Visitors will be able to ride down a 1920s New York City street or walk through the Savoy Ballroom.

The exhibit, which opens on Oct. 2, will take people back in time to the Harlem Renaissance, a period of time in Harlem, where intellectual, cultural and artistic expression exploded.

Artists like Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Augusta Savage, Hale Woodruff, Charles Alston and Elizabeth Catlett rose to prominence, and collaborative, inventive music, dance, and poetry dominated the local scene.

During the time, it was known as the “New Negro Movement,” named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke.

The history on influential personalities from Florida who were a part of the movement will merge with today’s technology to create an interactive exhibit that incorporates 3D and virtual reality. There will be three distinct virtual reality experiences that feature murals and artifacts.

“It’s another way to help people feel like they were there,” Museum Director Charlene Farrington said.

The goal of the project is to combine digital humanities and technology innovation to educate, inform and excite visitors. An opening reception will take place from 6-8 p.m. on Oct. 5.

The exhibition is based on “The Virtual Harlem Project,” an established digital humanities project by Bryan Carter, an Associate Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Arizona, who specializes in African American literature of the 20th Century, with a primary focus on the Harlem Renaissance and digital culture.

As part of the exhibit, thirty-something actor and playwright Daron Stewart performs his one-man show, “Soul of Langston,” on Fri. Nov. 2.

Written, conceived and acted by Stewart, the show highlights the works of writer and poet James Mercer Langston Hughes, who, along with his contemporaries, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, and Claude McKay, were integral parts of the intellectual, cultural and social life of the period in the early 1920s New York City, known as The Harlem Renaissance.

His poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” became his signature poem, and appeared in his first book of poetry, “The Weary Blues,” published in 1926.

Well-traveled, Hughes wrote novels, plays, operas, essays, and children’s books, and a first short story collection, titled “The Ways of White Folks.”

During the Spanish Civil War he worked as a foreign correspondent for an African-American newspaper in Baltimore, MD. In his poetry, Hughes is credited with experimenting with the new literary art form called jazz poetry.

Why did Stewart choose to create a performance piece based on the life and work of Hughes?

“I looked around to see who is interesting and who is or isn’t getting exposure,” Stewart said by phone from his home in California. “While there is a lot of material on Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Hughes is more obscure.”

“I’ve always been a fan of his poetry, and one thing I’ve come to admire about him is that he doesn’t mind being in the background,” Stewart said.  “He doesn’t have to take charge or be the leader.”

After being bitten by the acting bug, Stewart was searching for a vehicle in which he could realize his creative skills.

He began jotting down ideas and notes and doing research. He was dismayed to see that at the MLK Library in Washington, DC, Jackie Robinson was given more prominence than Langston Hughes.

“It’s important for people to understand that there is more to the civil rights movement than Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King,” he said. “In his writings and lectures, Hughes laid the foundation for the civil rights movement to emerge.”

Besides being a new father, running a production company and creating a web series, “Do I Have To?”  – a romantic comedy – before each performance of “Soul of Langston,” Stewart gets into character by immersing himself in Hughes’s life.

Using Michael Jordan as his role model of preparation, Hughes says, “I look at clips of Langston, read all I can and get into the script.  As many times as I’ve performed the show, I keep discovering new layers about his life and work.”

“I want to introduce Langston Hughes to a new generation and reintroduce him to a generation that may only slightly remember him,” Stewart said. “What I want in every performance is to have a platform to reach the audience – especially when that audience is kids.”

“It’s an honor and a responsibility,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of an artist to not just entertain but also to provoke.”

Like most actors, he is looking for steady, consistent, long-term work.

“I like to create,” he said. “That’s my passion. Whether I’m on stage or in front of a camera, most important to me is the work itself.  It’s all about the characters, not being the star.”

Stewart might be the star of this production, but like Hughes himself, he doesn’t mind taking a back seat.

“I just want to do good work,” he said.

Highlighting the show, The Spady Museum will welcome actor and playwright Daron Stewart, as he performs his one-man show, “Soul of Langston,” on Fri., Nov. 2 from 6-8 p.m. Cost: $15 in advance, $20 at the door.

Stewart will be in Delray Beach Oct. 31 – Nov. 2, and will be available to conduct educational workshops on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. Cost per workshop: $700. Workshops will be scheduled on a first-come-first-served basis. To schedule a workshop, please contact the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum at 561-279-8883.