Raqi Barnett hasn’t been in Fayetteville that long, but she’s been in theater for more than 30 years teaching, modeling, acting and directing. She’s good at it — and she loves it.
She’ll be making her directorial debut in Fayetteville at the Gilbert Theater on Feb. 3, when Paul Woolverton and John Merritt’s play Dateline Greensboro opens there.
This is the story of the beginning of the Civil Rights movement — more specifi cally, it is the tale of how a series of sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C., in 1960, sparked a movement that changed the world while baffl ing and transforming the news industry there.
It all started when four African-American college students went to the lunch counter in Woolworth’s, which was a whites-only establishment. They sat down, asked for food and were promptly asked to leave. Without violence or malice, they chose to stay, much to the chagrin of the other customers. They came back again and again and were mistreated each time. They were spit upon, had food dumped on them and were called every name in the book, but they stood fi rm and responded without violence.
One of the reasons that these sit-ins were so important is that the local press responded with great interest, and the story was picked up and reported around the country.
In this production Barnett is seeking to draw the audience into the experience and transport them to 1960 to give them a taste of the tension that surrounded these events. The play begins before the audience even makes it to their seats.
“As soon as people go into the theater they are already back in time. There are signs saying “colored only,” “white only,” “we serve whites only” and things like that, as soon as you enter,” said Barnett. “In the lobby you will see the four guys at a mock Woolworth’s counter so you can see how it was when they were there.”
Then the audience will move into the theater where they will have a choice to sit in the whites only side or the colored only side so they can see how it was in that era going to the theater. Then the newspaper will start covering the story as if it were that day in 1960.
The characters are introduced in black and white costumes. This is by design.
“As the play progresses, the audience will be able to see how the characters are affected by the events around them,” said Barnett. “It will be sort of like Pleasantville, at least that is my vision. As the characters change internally their costumes will refl ect that — or not. There are some characters who remain unchanged by the course of events. I think it will be an interesting evening for the audience.”
The fact that Barnett, a black woman, is directing a play about the Civil Rights Movement during Black History Month is not lost on her.
“There is extra pressure and extra excitement in it and in being able to tell a story that is still very relevant. The cast is amazing, and I think the play will be great,” said Barnett. “The goal is for everyone to take away with them a little part of history.”
Barnett is dedicating her work on this play to her husband’s unit, the XVIII Airborne Corps, which is currently deployed to Iraq.
Dateline Greensboro will run through Feb. 20 on Thursdays - Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12, except for opening night which is “pay-what-you-can” night. Space is limited, so make your reservations at email@example.com or by calling 678-7186.