Arts & Culture: Diversity Dialogue

Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier

Dreams to Remember 2: Reclamations & Theater

I’ve got dreams, dreams to remember…  

Theater is one of those dreams. When I arrived in Corning, there was a tradition of summer theater. O, not summer stock, but shows from Broadway that were staged at the Museum. Later on, I met some of the resident theater folks, studied with some of them, and came to, once again,  have a closer relationship to the love and dread of putting on a show.

My adult experience reconnected me to my roots. My first public performance was in a Tom Thumb wedding performed in my grandmother’s church, a few doors down from her grocery store. I may have been 5. My aunt, who played the upright piano that occupied the parlor in my grandparent’s apartment, groomed me for the role, where I was transformed from singing “won’t you buy my pretty violets” wearing a scarf, to the bride. Odd, that a genetically shy child, began her social identity as a performer. Music performance, in particular, remained a regular feature of my life until college.  This experience in managing shyness is another way that art grants transcendence, tools and skills.

In that reminiscence, the performance space was in a church. In high school, there was a grand auditorium. College offered several stages.  There are a couple of stages/spaces in Corning that I envision as options: the Courthouse and the Mason’s Theater.

Ever since I saw Tito Puente at the Mason’s, I was convinced that someone would and should invest in it and make it a regularly presenting venue for the arts. My Voices of Fire Reading Choir had its most exciting performance there.

Jazz in the Courthouse made me enamored of the Courthouse. I remember it as large, spacious and quirky, yet  evocative.

Theater is an endeavor that is at once its own and includes everything: writers, artists,lighting, actors, directors, designers, musicians and dancers… so many opportunities for learning and experience, for community building and knowledge sharing, for interaction and collaboration.

My musings on this may be misfocused. I think we need another performance space, a secular one, unattached to existing institutions. Perhaps the existence of a group like the Keuka Lake Players or Elmira Little Theater in the vast area between the two, would drive or define the development of a theater space.

About Akua Lezli Hope

Akua Lezli Hope uses sound, words, fiber, glass, metal, and wire to create poems, patterns, stories, music, sculpture, adornments, and peace. She wrote her first speculative poems in the sixth grade and has been in print every year, except one, since 1974 with over 400 poems published. Her collections and chapbooks include Embouchure: Poems on Jazz and Other Musics (ArtFarm Press, 1995; Writer’s Digest book award winner), Them Gone (The Word Works, 2018), Otherwheres: Speculative Poetry (ArtFarm Press, 2020; a 2021 Elgin Award winner), and Stratospherics (a micro-chapbook of scifaiku available from the Quarantine Public Library). A Cave Canem fellow, her honors include the NEA, two NYFAs, an SFPA award, and multiple Rhysling and Pushcart Prize nominations. She has won Rattle’s Poets Respond twice and launched Speculative Sundays, an online poetry reading series. Her work has also been published in numerous literary magazines and national anthologies, including: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The 100 Best African American Poems (Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 2010); Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (Warner Aspect, 2000), Asimov’s Science Fiction, Gyroscope Review, Pensive: A Global Journal of Spirituality & the Arts, Strange Horizons, Star*Line, SciFaikuest, Eye to the Telescope, The New Verse News, Breath & Shadow, The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop (Terrapin Books, 2016), The Cossack Review, Silver Blade Magazine, Stone Canoe, and Three Coyotes. She is the editor of the record-breaking sea-themed issue of Eye To The Telescope #42, and of NOMBONO: An Anthology of Speculative Poetry by BIPOC Creators, the first of its kind, from Sundress Publications (2021). A third-generation New Yorker and an avid hand papermaker and crochet designer, she exhibits her artwork regularly. She sings songs from her favorite anime in Japanese, practices her soprano saxophone, and prays for the cessation of suffering for all sentience from the ancestral land of the Seneca, the Southern Finger Lakes region of New York State.

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