Oral histories lend voices to play about race in Howard County


October 27, 2003|By Fay Lande

The Patapsco Players took their show on the road Oct. 11 to the 37th annual meeting of the Oral History Association at the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda.

This year's theme was "Creating Communities: Cultures, Neighborhoods and Institutions."

There were seminars, talks and discussions, but the troupe - Sally Voris, Gwen Marable and Gail Rosen, accompanied by musician Walter Jones Jr. - presented A Completely Different World, a play written by Voris and drawn from oral histories collected by folklorist Alison Kahn from 1997 to 2000. The collection, Patapsco: Portrait of a Valley, was recognized in 2000 by the Library of Congress as a local legacy.

"Gwen helped me realize that I wrote the script to open a dialogue on race relations in the valley," Voris said. "So we performed it, and then we opened a dialogue on race relations with the audience."

Voris, a writer, activist and former neighborhood columnist for The Sun, grew up in Elkridge. Marable is a descendent of the sister of Benjamin Banneker, the African-American scientist. Rosen is a professional storyteller. The Players told stories about prejudice and difference, one of them in the words of Rosen's mother-in-law:

It was a completely different world. Because we were Jews in Ellicott City, we were treated differently. We absolutely were. I was hurt by it but I see it completely differently now. The black children didn't even go to our school; they all lived on a different street. And we didn't think anything of it. People were pleasant to our faces but behind our backs it was different, I know. ... We knew we were different. That's just how it was.

"And we had people share stories about their experience, and they were from Missouri and North Carolina and Pennsylvania and Tennessee," Voris said. "And to look out in the audience and see people just weeping! ... We were doing what we wanted to do. We wanted to have a real discussion."

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