Jan 27, 2021

In Honor of Black History Month, Playhouse Square Offers Free Streaming Performances

presented by University Hospitals

Register for Rhapsody in Black

In honor of Black History Month, Playhouse Square is offering free streaming performances presented by University Hospitals: Stono by Step Afrika! and Rhapsody in Black by LeLand Gantt. Registration for the free performances is required.

“I always have my eyes open for great work to share with the young audiences of Playhouse Square, and when I saw these two shows, I thought they presented an opportunity to expand the reach of our digital offerings even beyond the classroom. We are proudly presenting an inspiring and timely new work by Step Afrika! and for the first time in our region, the full-length version of Rhapsody in Black,” shared Playhouse Square Vice President of Community Engagement & Education Daniel Hahn. “It gives me great pleasure to be able to expand the reach of these tremendous artists and their deeply moving performances to teens and adults.

Stono was created as a streaming performance, and I tuned in for the world premiere online on September 9, 2020 – the anniversary of the historic Stono Rebellion. Step Afrika! takes this important but too-little-known moment of history and retells it as only this world class company of energizing dancers can. 

“I also vividly remember sitting in the theater watching Rhapsody in Black, several years ago. LeLand Gantt gives a tour-de-force performance that profoundly and personally explores the issues of contemporary racial issues in America, through the lens of his own experiences. There is no doubt this work is as timely as it is enthralling.”

Stono, available for streaming on demand February 1-14, honors the spirit of resistance and activism that remains a critical part of American freedom. On September 9, 1739, the largest insurrection of enslaved Africans in North America began in South Carolina on the banks of the Stono River. Twenty Africans marched south toward a promised freedom in Spanish Florida, waving flags, beating drums, and shouting “Liberty!” Although the Stono Rebellion was suppressed, this little-known event in American history forever changed African American life and culture. When Africans lost the right to use their drums through The Negro Act of 1740, they began to use their bodies as percussive instruments in response. This act of survival and activism earned them the name of “Drumfolk,” coined by famed folklorist Bessie Jones. Their percussive movement gave rise to some of the country’s most distinctive art forms, including the ring shout, tap, hambone, and stepping.

Available for streaming on demand February 22-28, Rhapsody in Black, is a one-man show that explores LeLand’s personal journey to understanding and eventually transcending racism in America. We follow his spellbinding life story—from an underprivileged childhood in the ghettos of McKeesport, Pennsylvania to teenage experiments with crime and drugs to scholastic achievement and an acting career that lands adult LeLand in situations where he is virtually the only African American in the room. How he manages to cope with the various psychological effects of consistently being marked "The Other" is recounted in remarkable and exquisitely moving detail, guaranteed to leave lasting impressions. Written and performed by LeLand Gantt and developed at NYC’s Actors Studio with Estelle Parsons. Recommended for ages 15 and up for adult situations and language. A live Q&A with LeLand will be held on Sunday, February 28 at 7 p.m.

In addition to these two public performances, Playhouse Square also offers Streaming Performances for Schools, including our Social Justice Series. This past June, Playhouse Square, along with many local organizations, released a public statement committing to fight systemic racism in our community. As part of our commitment, we introduced this series as part of our digital lineup: five plays, all of which explore the issues we continue to face as a community and a nation, through the perspectives of a range of outstanding artists of color. Titles were intentionally selected to provide age-appropriate offerings spanning Kindergarten through high school, so educators can select the best fit for their classrooms. The Social Justice Series includes Five Days with Step Afrika!; Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom; Black Violin; Rhapsody in Black (the abridged version); and Jabari Dreams of Freedom. Nearly 3,000 classrooms from across Northeast Ohio have registered for these streaming performances. 

Stono and Rhapsody in Black are presented by University Hospitals, the official healthcare partner of Playhouse Square.

Advancing arts education is part of Playhouse Square’s not-for-profit mission.

Founded in 1994 by C. Brian Williams, Step Afrika! is the first professional company dedicated to the tradition of stepping. Under Mr. Williams’ leadership, stepping has evolved into one of America’s cultural exports, touring more than 60 countries across the globe, and the Company now ranks as one of the top ten African-American dance companies in the United States.

Step Afrika! blends percussive dance styles practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities; traditional African dances; and an array of contemporary dance and art forms into a cohesive, compelling artistic experience. Performances are much more than dance shows; they integrate songs, storytelling, humor and audience participation. The blend of technique, agility, and pure energy makes each performance unique and leaves the audience with their hearts pounding.

Step Afrika! promotes stepping as an educational tool for young people, focusing on teamwork, academic achievement and cross-cultural understanding. The Company reaches tens of thousands of Americans each year through a 50-city tour of colleges and theaters and performs globally as Washington, DC’s one and only Cultural Ambassador.

Step Afrika! has earned Mayor’s Arts Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education, Innovation in the Arts, Excellence in an Artistic Discipline and headlined President Barack Obama’s Black History Month Reception at The White House. The Company is featured prominently at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture with the world’s first stepping interactive exhibit.
Leland Gantt is writer and performer of RHAPSODY IN BLACK, an autobiographical solo play with Estelle Parsons as Directorial Consultant. Since earning a “Best Storyteller” award for himself and a “Best Director” award for Estelle at the United Solo Festival in 2014, LeLand has toured RHAPSODY, nationally and internationally, using its “Prismatic reflections on blackness” to ignite and expand conversations about race and identity. 

A veteran of the stage, Mr. Gantt highlights playing both Iago and Othello, creating the roles of Benny the Jet in Keith Glovers’s IN WALKS ED, and Tempest Landry in Walter Mosley’s THE FALL OF HEAVEN (both world premieres at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park) and most recently, playing Pontius Pilot in Stephen Adly Guirgus’ LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT at La Mama, ETC. Other regional credits include: TWO TRAINS RUNNING and RADIO GOLF (Syracuse Stage); GEM OF THE OCEAN (Arena Stage), JITNEY and SEVEN GUITARS (Pittsburgh Public Theater), and IN WALKS ED (Longwharf Theater). Off-Broadway/Broadway: RHAPSODY IN BLACK (The WorkShop Theater), SLIPPERY WHEN WET (La Mama), ANOTHER MAN’S POISON (Peter Jay Sharpe Theater), CARSON MCCULLERS (Women’s Theater Project), Marion McClinton’s POLICE BOYS (Playwrights Horizons); Oyamo's KILLA DILLA and LET ME LIVE (Drama Desk/Audelco award nominee - Featured Actor), and the Broadway revival of MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (u/s Rock Dutton). Film and Television credits include: Miracle at St. Anna, Requiem for a Dream, Malcolm X, Presumed Innocent, Law and Order, Law and Order SVU, JAG and HBO's The Affair.