Interview: Playwright Cheryl L. West on the Legacies of Fannie Lou Hamer and Sister Rosetta Tharpe

In two stage works, West explores the complex lives of these important figures from history.

Playwright Cheryl L. West doesn’t see herself as a pioneer of pandemic performance, but in a way, one of her stage works has become a model of how to do theater safely outdoors. Fannie Lou Hamer: Speak On It, a show about the titular activist and the importance of voting, was performed in public parks in the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election, presented by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. That same staging moved to Washington, DC, under the auspices of Arena Stage, and a different mounting was presented by Premiere Stages at Kean University in New Jersey.

Hamer’s story of activism was perfect for the time, and, like another famous figure from history West is writing about, rock-and-roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, teaches us a lot about the world we live in today. Here, West discusses the impact of these two unique women and the productions she’s creating to center their stories.

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