Nov. 10 2010 12:00 AM

’Music History’ examines romance in the era of the Civil Rights fight



Sandra Seaton would like to put a different spin on the way the African- American experience is generally presented on stage.

Seaton’s "Music History" is a drama with a few musical touches, reflecting on the power of music in bringing people together. It is set in the 1960s, at the time of the civil rights movement, and focuses on two African-American college students at the University of Illinois.

"Music History" stars Pulsar-winning Michigan State University actor Piaget Ventus and Kenneth Ray Nelson Jr. as the couple.

The play addresses their struggle with social pressures and segregation, and their connections and lives in the face of it.

Seaton said she hopes the play showcases the diversity of the African-American experience.

“I had seen so many portrayals of African- Americans who were in situations where they were portrayed as activists in civil rights,” Seaton said.

“It was commonplace to show them only involved in the scene where the activism was taking place, but it wasn’t about their personal lives.”

The end result, Seaton said, was white characters that were heavily complicated and multi-layered, while African- American characters ended up seeming shallow. She hopes to break that perception with "Music History."

“What you end up doing,” Seaton said, “is portraying the cost to the individual and how it affects the individual personally. I didn’t want these characters to be icons. They’re not there to make speeches. This is just one story, not the story of the whole African-American experience. No two stories would ever be the same: That’s the way I see diversity.”

Seaton said the idea of music aids that diversity since it cuts across generations and racial divisions. People react to it in spite of themselves, even through separation and segregation. It promotes a kinship that transcends the obstacles people put between themselves.

The play was first presented as a reading at the Renegade Theater Festival in August. Since then, the play has been substantially revised by Seaton, writer-in-residence at the Michigan State University College of Law, and director John Lepard.

Born in Columbia, Tenn., Seaton wrote her first play as an undergrad 40 years ago. “The Bridge Party,” her first production, premiered in Chicago in 1989. Other plays include "The Will," "A Bed Made in Heaven," "Martha Stewart Slept Here" and "A Chance Meeting."

In addition to the play, a free symposium and roundtable discussion titled “Dramatization in Context” will be held Friday at the MSU Museum Auditorium; it’s organized by Gabriel Dotto, director of the MSU Press.

The discussion will include legal, historical and cultural questions on the dramatic representation of societal issues, as well as comments on the play, with Seaton, Lepard and several experts in attendance.

’Music History’

State University Theatre 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11; 8 p.m. Friday,
Nov. 12; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13; 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14
Arena Theatre, Fairchild Auditorium $12; $10 seniors; $8 students (800)