Playwright Ted Lange is a footnote historian. "When history deals with African American participation, we're usually a footnote. What I do is go around and find African Americans and do it [tell the story] from their point of view."
President and executive director of Charleston Black Theatre (CBT) Yvonne Broaddus first met Lange at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC in 2016. But she'd known him far longer than that.
"In the '70s — we're about the same age — I'd watch the Love Boat and back then when you'd see a black person on TV we'd run, thrilled. We were happy as a lark when we saw someone black." Broaddus and Lange (who starred on Love Boat, by the way) got to talking, and she told him about CBT and her dedication to educating the younger generation about their history.
CBT's mission, Broaddus says, is to "educate and entertain students, so they learn about American history, their history — there's a portion of it that is not as clear for them so they don't feel good about that. The part about enslavement, and all the things that go with that. They need to have a better picture of it."
Lange was immediately on board. When Broaddus got home, she had a book of Lange's plays, inscribed with "please, let's do one of these plays." The first play was George Washington's Boy, and Broaddus knew that was the one. "Let me say I really loved the storyline."
In George Washington's Boy we see the ascension of Washington, from his success in the Revolutionary War to 14 years later, when he's serving as the first president of the United States, all from the perspective of William Lee, Washington's slave. As Washington fights for freedom from Great Britain, Lee wonders why the institution of slavery is still able to exist, and thrive, in America. In Act I, Lee "realizes that freedom is a right for all Americans and begins to plot his escape." In Act II, Lee watches as Washington struggles with his philosophies, and must grapple himself with existing as an enslaved man who yearns for freedom.
"They all matched the characters they're playing," says Broaddus of her cast. And by matched she means verve, not exact physical features. "We do color blind casting. If you can sound like Hamilton, but don't look like Hamilton, you can play Hamilton." Broaddus, who has worked with most of the actors before, says that they were "handpicked from heaven and seasoned with personality" (check out actor Jamal Hall talk about his role as Billy Lee below).
The stage reading will take place tomorrow night at 6 p.m. at West Ashley High School. A West Ashley resident, Broaddus thinks the underdog of the area deserves some love.
"The number one reason is downtown spots are not available — I'm a nonprofit. It gets very expensive. And West Ashley is a good place to me. You don't have to worry about parking, or paying for parking. It's a great campus."
Tickets for George Washington's Boy are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors; purchase them online.