The Jitterbug Conspiracy — Harlem Dramaturgy Project , Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance — AAPEX

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Jitterbug Conspiracy

The Jitterbug Conspiracy

Or Who's dancing it now?

No one in Harlem that's for sure. The great black American city where it was born has abandoned the dance and allowed it to be co-opted by the white world.* With the publication of "Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance" by AAPEX playwright D.C. Copeland, maybe the time has come to reclaim it through our schools and the stage.

from the book "Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance"
by Jaz Dorsey
Founder of AAPEX

From 1990 - 1997 it was my honor to serve as the production manager for Biggs Rosati Productions in the NYC offices of The National Theatre of the Performing Arts, producing national tours of bi-lingual French and Spanish classics to high schools across the United States. From this experience, I know what a valuable role the theatre can play in education. Putting a script into the hands of young students, letting them rehearse and research the play, allows them to connect with language and history in a way that no other experience can provide.

There is no area of study that we need to focus on more than that which enhances our greater understanding of the contributions made by African Americans to our country's history and culture. D.C Copeland's award winning script ONCE UPON A TIME IN HARLEM: A Jitterbug Romance offers both students and their teachers a wonderful gateway into an era when American music, song and dance were elevated to genius by African American artists such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to name just a few. Combining history with a fictional romantic storyline, this “radio” play edition is a condensed version of the longer 3-act play. Reimagining the play as a live radio broadcast from the 1930’s was pure genius since it takes a sprawling and expensive production and makes it producible by just about anyone who wants to take it on-- including schools and colleges. This process-- where students read the “radio” script out loud from their desks-- has been proven in many studies as a sure-fire way of getting them involved and remembering what they read. To help that effort, Copeland encourages teachers to “take it to the next level” by turning the reading into a multimedia event by offering free cued MP3 sound effects that can be downloaded from the play’s website-- an offer I hope all teachers will take him up on because the sound effects-- and using the suggested songs from that period-- help make the reading feel like a live radio broadcast from the past. Besides being just down right fun to do, this aural coloring goes hand-in-hand with the writing to bring the lives and times of that period and the memorable characters Copeland created to life and is worth the added effort.

Finally, because of its stand-up-and-cheer ending and uplifting message, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HARLEM: A Jitterbug Romance in any version, is a worthy addition to any theatre’s-- or school’s-- program and I look forward to hearing it “broadcast live” from every theatre and classroom across the land.

Jaz Dorsey,
Artistic Director, The Nashville Dramaturgy Project
Founder and Dramaturg,
African American Playwrights Exchange (AAPEX)

*Aside from The Harlem Swing Society which is made up a handful of Harlemites determined to save the dance-- compared to the time 80-years-ago when there were a handful of ballrooms all over Harlem-- including the legendary Savoy Ballroom with its twin bandstands and a block long sprung wooden floor that could hold 5,000 people any given night.

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