“We are all supposed to tell our stories — and be listeners to the stories of others,” believes Kimberly Wilson of Westport. “We need to learn to celebrate each other, to let live, love and treasure one another.”
In that spirit, Wilson developed and has been performing a one-woman musical show titled A Journey… for several years. Described as “a play, a story, a song,” it will be presented at the Theatre Artists Workshop in East Norwalk next weekend, Feb. 5–7.
A Journey… focuses on the rich history of African-Americans by telling the stories of seven women, with Wilson becoming each of them through alteration of voice, physicality, the drape of a scarf or other accessory, as well as spirituals sung a cappella. Noting, “We did not begin as slaves,” Wilson opens her program with an African Queen and then includes two slave characters, followed by Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and some of her own story. She concludes with Maya Angelou.
While the core of the performances remains the same, each has its own nuances, she says, depending the audience, current events or Wilson’s own growth. “I find something new in every performance, and my story evolves as I do.” The 75-minute show is performed without an intermission.
Wilson calls Journey a piece that “celebrates history, courage, hope, faith and love of African-American women… it represents who we are and what we strive for. Audiences can expect to be entertained and educated; there are a wealth of characters and emotions connected to them and every audience member will find a piece of themselves in the show, whether you are man or woman, adult or child.”
Wilson said that it is rare that she performs for a black audience, outside of some Baptist churches. “I would like to celebrate African-American history 365 days a year, but African-American history is not part of most curriculums, so I am grateful for February and the opportunity to share A Journey….” In addition to the Theatre Artists Worship, she has three other public events and several private events slated for February, as well as a few more for Women’s History Month in March.
“The simplicity of the set — just me and four pieces — affords me the opportunity to perform anywhere from living rooms to schools and houses of worship to theaters.”
Every performance ends with an audience talkback, with members of the audience relating thoughts or experiences. “The talkbacks are fabulous and have lasted anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes. They are an essential part of the program and I won’t do a show unless there is time to extend the journey — we have to tell our stories. It is not unusual for audience members to engage in personal sharing, some find it exhilarating. I become the facilitator… to see such an exchange, be part of witnessing the live theater of life… I love it, wouldn’t give it up for the world.”
After every performance and talkback, she “writes down what I experienced,” some of which will be used in future presentations.
Wilson calls herself a theater baby; she began acting as a child in St. Paul, Minn., as the youngest of six sisters who did skits and scenes, creating characters to entertain themselves. “Acting is how I express myself,” she said. She began playing piano by ear at age four and took lessons until she was 13, giving it up “because I wanted to be a cheerleader and I couldn’t do that and practice piano two hours a day.”
But she did participate at Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, then community theater and was in the first ensemble of Mixed Blood Theatre before attending Howard University in Washington, D.C. She returned to her home state and became Miss Black Minnesota in 1984; the scholarship program seeks participants who epitomize a strong and intelligent woman. During what she called “a good reign,” she did many appearances and ribbon cuttings in the black community and was the first of her title to have the runners-up appear with her as well; “It was always the queen and her court.”
She moved east in 1992 “to be by my beautiful sister Peggy Jorgensen of Redding.”
At Hurlbutt Elementary School in Weston, she performed a skit on Sojourner Truth for Black History Month, and decided to add a simple song, “Precious Lord.”
It was there that she met Chris Coogan and the two of them played at a number of schools and she joined his Good News Gospel Choir, in which she performed for eight years. “It was a great experience,” she said. “It helped build relationships with my new community.” Additionally, “Having experiences with Chris in schools showed me I could put together my own success with scenes.”
Her first program for students was The Three Spirits of Black Womanhood, featuring the stories of Harriet, Sojourner and Rosa. The 40-minute program was geared to middle school age and up.
Wilson joined Theatre Actors Workshop in East Norwalk, and “the connections helped move me on my own journey… my program evolved further in its workshops, which helped me create the A Journey… as it is now performed.”
The Theatre Actors Workshop is at 5 Gregory Boulevard. A Journey… will be presented on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 5 and 6, at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 3. All tickets are $20 and may be purchased at thewilsonproductions.com; reservations can be made at 203-571-7709 or firstname.lastname@example.org, with payment at the theater. Additional public events will take place at the Danbury Museum & Historical Society, 43 Main Street, on Feb. 20 at 2 (203-734-5200) and Keeler Tavern Museum and Garden House, 132 Main Street, Ridgefield, on Feb. 21 at 3 (203-431-0815), as well as Union Wesley AME Zion Church in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 28.