Published: Oct. 1, 2014
CU-Boulder theater professor takes 'At Buffalo' on the road

After a workshop performance at the University of Colorado Boulder in December 2013, At Buffalo, a unique new musical in development that explores race in post-Civil War America through the lens of three exhibits at the 1901 Worlds Fair in Buffalo, New York, reached new audiences on the East Coast in July and August.

The musical, co-created by Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin, assistant professor of theatre at CU-Boulder, playwright Joshua Williams, and composer Khalil Sullivan and co-conceived with media entrepreneur Jim Augustine of New York, was one of just 10 works chosen for developmental reading at The New York Musical Theatre Festival July 17 and 20.

At Buffalo vividly explores various dimensions of African and African American identity, based on three distinct exhibits at the 1901 World’s Fair in Buffalo, N.Y. There was Darkest Africa, featuring Africans brought in to “live” in an authentic African village, the Old Plantation, showing “scenes of a happy slave life,” and a mile away, The American Negro Exhibit created by African American intellectuals such as W.E.B. Du Bois.

“The play wrestles with a critical moment in the construction of race and American national identity,” Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin says.

On Aug. 29, Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin—who goes by “Dr. Amma”—along with Thomas Riis, director of the American Music Research Center at the CU-Boulder College of Music, Associate Professor of Dance Gesel Mason, PhD candidates Amy Osatinski and Vanessa Roberts participated in a forum about the work at the National Black Theater Network Conference.

The conference gave the team an opportunity to discuss the presentation of history through performance and movement to bring archival material to life.

“It was amazing to listen to people who had no experience with the piece talk about it so passionately. The panel really incited a lot of debate and that is exactly what you want to happen with a piece of theatre like At Buffalo” says Osatinski, who began working on the project in spring 2013.

Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin is now seeking other opportunities to workshop the musical and a venue for its eventual premiere.

“The work is so much larger than me. A story for the diaspora, multiple nations, one would hope international tours would eventually be a part of it with CU Boulder as a pioneering site for this methodology,” she says.

Learn more about At Buffalo

Photo: Dr. Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin speaks at the National Black Theatre Network Conference in August 2014. Courtesy photo.

— Rachel Dodson

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