Playwright and associate professor, Jacqueline E. Lawton, wants to put Black and marginalized communities at the center of her work. Her most recent play, "Edges of Time," shows the life of Marvel Cooke, the first Black female journalist to have her own byline in a major U.S. newspaper.
The play, hosted by PlayMakers Repertory Company, will be streaming on their website from March 22 to April 4.
Set in 1963 during the early civil rights movement, "Edges of Time" focuses on Cooke, an investigative journalist seeking to share truthful news.
As Lawton researched for the play, she said she was heartbroken that she had never heard of Cooke prior to that point.
“I just think about what my life would have been like if I had known about this extraordinary Black woman doing this great work,” Lawton said. “So, I set out to write the play.”
The one-woman show features Kathryn Hunter-Williams, an associate professor at the University, as Cooke. Hunter-Williams was excited to learn about Cooke when she and Lawton first discussed the play. Hunter-Williams was also surprised that she didn't know anything about Cooke, as her parents were Black journalists.
Although Cooke had a similar career to Hunter-Williams' parents, she said she felt more connected to her grandmother, who was just three years older than Cooke.
“It was interesting to actually walk more in my grandmother's world, in terms of world events and worldview,” Hunter-Williams said.
Directed by Jules Odendahl-James, the play will give the audience both a history lesson about Cooke and serve as a way to put her story in a familiar context.
“Marvel’s not someone who was at the front of the movement for labor rights, racial equality or gender equality,” Odendahl-James said. “And yet, the things that she did with the people she influenced, and the sort of constant strain of work, we would not have those things if we did not have people like Marvel.”
Odendahl-James has worked with Lawton for years as a dramaturg. She said she enjoys how Jacqueline often teaches her about people who she was unfamiliar with.
“As a white person growing up in America, we get a very particular sort of strain of history, particularly around sort of prominent African-Americans,” Odendahl-James said. “And so there's people we know a whole lot about, and then there's a whole slew that there's just nothing taught about, and Marvel kind of falls into that space.”
Marvel’s story was originally supposed to be displayed in the spring of 2020, but when the pandemic hit, showings of "Edges of Time" were canceled.
Now, a year later, the play was filmed several times to perfect its portrayal of the script through video. Lawton said she enjoyed the editing process, which is usually not a factor in the live theater experience.
“That was new for us,” Lawton said. “We went through three versions of the film to get, you know, the nitty-gritty different angles and the light and sound levels exactly the way that we wanted.”
Similarly, Odendahl-James said the team used the filming process to the play’s advantage.
“It kind of seamlessly rolls into a relationship that you can have as the same as you would be if you went into the theater that's just enhanced with all of the things that you can enhance,” she said.
Hunter-Williams said that unlike in film, she was the one telling the story rather than the camera. She felt this relieved pressure from changing the performance to adapt to the pandemic.
"When I find that unsung human, I just love that and I feel like we unearth these little jewels of these people who have walked in our world,” Hunter-Williams said. “It's beautiful to unearth somebody's life and say, ‘Wow, this is what you did, and I can learn and draw inspiration from that. Thank you.’”
To learn more about Marvel Cook and to purchase tickets visit The Playmakers Repertory Company's website.
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