URI Feinstein Providence Campus to premiere musical for Black History Month, Jan. 31

Media Contact: Jhodi Redlich, 874-2116

Exhibit accompanies production

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — December 22, 2003 — The University of Rhode Island’s Feinstein Providence Campus will initiate the celebration of Black History month with the premiere of an original musical, “Waiting for Bessie Smith,” that features a rich depression-era story spun with several traditional spirituals and blues songs.

The production will be held on Saturday, Jan. 31 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 1 at 3 p.m. at the campus, 80 Washington St. Tickets are $5 for the general public and free for URI Providence Campus students. For ticket information call 277-5000.

Written and directed by Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, the co-founder of the Mixed Magic Theatre and Cultural Events, “Waiting for Bessie,” is a fictional account of the events that unfold one snowy night in a Providence tavern during the Great Depression. When the scheduled performer, blues artist Bessie Smith is held up by the weather, the audience becomes restless and the host calls on locals to entertain the crowd. What follows is an escape from the harsh reality of the times, through music and an exercise in community self-healing.

Pitts-Wiley, who was acclaimed for his recent performance in Driving Miss Daisy, is a local multitalented actor/director and playwright. He and his wife, Bernadette, have created the Mixed Magic Theatre group to develop a variety of cultural events with local talent and foster collaborations between diverse groups. The group has a community outreach partnership with URI to present programs in the 300-seat Paff Auditorium at the downtown Providence Campus.

The URI Feinstein Providence Campus Student Services Office and the artist-in-residence program are sponsoring the show, with additional support from the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education Student Government Board.

Exhibit: The Strains of Black in Rhode Island

To coincide with the premiere, the Providence Campus Gallery will host an exhibit called “The Strains of Black in Rhode Island” from Jan. 19 to Feb. 27. The gallery, located in the first and second floor lobbies of the campus, will be open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

The exhibit features a varied collection of photographs, news clippings, artifacts and personal objects from the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society and several private collections. It visually documents the active black community in Rhode Island in the first half of the Twentieth Century, focusing on the musical contributions made during this time at the Celebrity Club, the Marathon Club and local black churches.

For more information about the production or the exhibit, please call 277-5206.