By Janice Malone
There’s still time left to get your tickets to the Nashville Repertory Theatre’s current production of SCHOOLGIRLS; OR THE AFRICAN MEAN GIRLS PLAY (By Jocelyn Bioh).
The show ends its run February 20th in TPAC’s Andrew Johnson Theatre. Tickets at https://nashvillerep.org/
The play is a rather “nice-nasty” teen comedy with a storyline that explores colorism, fashion, pageants and teen girls just being teens. Alicia Haymer makes her Nashville Rep debut as the show’s director.
Set during the 1980’s, a closer look at the story finds teen character “Paulina,” as being the longest reigning Queen Bee of Aburi High School. She seemingly has it all, as some kids believe. With a team of teenage sycophants and the latest styles from the glamorous American boutique “Wal-Mart,” she’s a shoe-in for the Miss Ghana 1986 pageant. The game changes when new girl “Ericka,” moves to Ghana from exotic Ohio, USA, on the same day the pageant recruiter arrives. Who will be chosen to compete for the crown? Get your tickets this week to find out.
Actress Cynthia C. Harris stars in the play as the character “Headmistress Francis.” Ms. Harris, who’s a playwright herself, actually got the role as a last-minute replacement. “The person who was initially scheduled to play the character Headmistress Francis had to back out at the last minute for personal reasons,” shares Cynthia. “The night before rehearsal started, the director, director Alicia, sent me a text and asked if I would like to participate. So, I kind of jumped in within 24 hours!” she adds with a laugh.
Cynthia said she read the entire script with the intention of possibly being a part of the production, but not on the stage. Now that she’s officially Headmistress Francis, Cynthia says she quickly embraced the character. She says, “Headmistress Francis can be firm when she needs to be, in order to keep things in line. But overall, it’s really clear how much she cares about those girls. My approach to this character was to find her joy. I know what it is to be passionate about a cause or about encouraging young ambitious girls with big dreams and have them mirror back what you’re teaching them. So, we’re watching these young characters kind of deal with transitions, when power or a part of their identity is challenged, and what pushes them to do certain things. It also looks at power dynamics and colorism in general. It’s a glimpse at some deeper effects of those dynamics. The play has some heavy kind of themes in it, but it’s actually quite a bit of fun, and there are moments to laugh for sure…”
When Ms. Harris is away from the stage, the Nashville native has talents that extend deeply into the Music City community. She’s a writer, healing artist, conjure woman and proud a Southerner. She has a master’s degree in public health. Over the last 18 years, she’s been devoted to the empowerment of women and girls through art, education, and research. Ms. Harris’ career includes various research and program management roles with Emory University, Vanderbilt University, Meharry Medical College, Tennessee State University, and Tennessee Kidney Foundation. She has extensive experience designing and implementing educational workshops in a variety of community settings for youth, women of color, faith and organizational leaders as well as emerging community activists. Her workshops center on arts-based civic engagement, health disparities, and community building. Cynthia has trained several hundred individuals through community sponsored gatherings, collaborations, conferences and arts festivals.
Cynthia joined the board of Actor’s Bridge Ensemble in 2018, where she continues to create safe and creative spaces for young women through their Act Like a Grrrl Program. Her original works: Phrases of Womanhood, Why Won’t She Leave? and How to Catch a Flying Woman, explore issues of gender, Southern identity, women’s intimacy, spirituality, community and African heritage. Her latest work, The Calling is in the Body, scheduled to debut in 2022, focuses on the life of Deidre Williams, the first Black person to become an HIV positive advocate in Tennessee.