On Monday, Feb. 2 at 6 p.m., new performance group Harlem will produce “A Night At The Cotton Club” to kick off The University of Southern Mississippi’s celebrations of Black History Month.
Harlem, which formed in 2014 and presented its first showcase, is an all-inclusive arts performance group for minorities within the Department of Theatre.
Hillary Lewis, a theatre graduate student and one of Harlem’s founding members, said that Harlem was founded because the group noticed a lack of minority representation in the arts at Southern Miss.
“There (are) a lot of wonderful works out there that we felt that the students at USM needed to see. Our mission was to put works of new playwrights on the stage, particularly those who are a minority, and present them to the students,” Lewis said.
While last year the founding members were primarily theatre majors, this year they have expanded to add other artists in differentiating fields. “Everybody from every art form (is welcome),” Lewis said. “We now have musicians, opera singers, dancers and theatre people, so it (involves) all of the performing arts.”
Brittany Butler, a senior theatre major and performer, said that “A Night At the Cotton Club” will be a diverse performance of many different styles. “It is a piece that is incorporating poetry, dance, music and acting. It’s basically a night of different acts,” Butler said.
All of these acts will be based inside of the historical old-fashioned Cotton Club, a club based in New York’s Harlem that saw its heyday in the Prohibition Era, featuring black artists like Louis Armstrong and Ethel Waters.
The performers bring back that old jazz and swing, with each of the artists acting as a club performer.
“I am the nightclub singer, one of the acts that does poetry,” Butler said. “In the (theatrical) scene, I play Sister Taylor, who is kind of a gossip.”
Jasmine Neal, a theatre graduate student, said that she has been enjoying watching the rehearsals. “I’m just as excited as everyone else to see the show,” she said.
Neal also stressed the importance of representing minorities in the arts. “I believe it is so important because there are other stories to be told. Each story of each different minority group is different and each has their own struggles,” she said. “It’s very important for us to show, as theatre artists, the experiences of each group on the stage.”
“A Night at the Cotton Club” will be performed in The Woods Theatre at 6 p.m., a small classroom based theater inside the Theatre and Dance Building. There is no cost to attend the event and seats are first-come, first-served.