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Andre De Shields speaking at Florida State University

Photo Credit: Rachel Bush

April 23, 2004

Shout-Out from the Sunshine State

By André De Shields

Upon hearing that I would be spending two months of the winter working in Tallahassee, Florida, my friends made no attempt at disguising their envy. Understandably, recommendations for sunscreens with SP factors appropriate to the Sunshine State came flooding in, because Tallahassee is known for, among other distinctions, its abundant sunshine. The day I left for points South, the temperature in New York City was an Arctic seven degrees Fahrenheit. Three hours later, after connecting in balmy Atlanta, GA, I arrived at my destination, marveling at its palpable Native American heritage, its big sky, its canopies of moss-covered oaks and its temperature of a sizzling 26 degrees. Surprisingly, during the months of January and February, the sun pretty much vacates the North Florida Red Hills country. In fact, native Floridians refer to this part of the state—perched at the Big bend in the Gulf of Mexico—as Southern Georgia, a topographic nuance.

So, during what was essentially sixty days of gray, mildly cold and exceptionally wet weather, Phyllis Frelich, Heather Tom, Robert Walden and I collaborated on the world premiere of Mark Medoff’s new play, PRYMATE. After four weeks’ rehearsals, the production ran a total of eleven performances in the Richard G. Fallon Theatre at Florida State University (FSU). The contract under which we worked was the Agreement made between Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) and the University/Resident Theatre Association (U/RTA), guidelines that allow, indeed, encourage members of Equity to perform the duties of adjunct teachers as part of a project designed to sustain collaboration among professional actors, students in training programs and their faculty.

Each member of the acting company was responsible for a Saturday morning workshop relevant to his/her specific discipline. At my turn, I led a session entitled “the Broadway Musical.” A screening of the 1982 NBC Television Special Ain’t Misbehavin’ was followed by a Q&A forum. I used this opportunity to include students from Tallahassee’s historically Black institution, Florida A&M University. The workshop concept was so successful that this writer received an additional seven requests for in-class visits, culminating in two unique events.

The first was an AEA orientation seminar focusing on two fundamental questions: why do actors and stage managers need a union, and who’s responsible for Equity’s governance? This indispensable enlightenment would not have been possible without the invaluable cooperation of three of my colleagues at Equity—Helaine Feldman (Associate Editor of Equity News), Peter Mojica (Director Purchasing) and Robert Roznowski (Outreach and Education Director). Through their efforts I had at my disposal sufficient copies of the “AEA Handbook,” the informational pamphlet “A Brief Intro To Equity” and the 90th Anniversary issue of Equity News to pass out to students and faculty in both the School of Theatre at Tallahassee and the Acting Conservatory at Sarasota.

The second event was an observance of Black History Month involving the students from three Florida middle schools. The celebration, hosted by Florida’s First Lady Columba Bush, was held at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee.

Finally, after closing at FSU on February 29th, PRYMATE set a record as the fastest transfer from a university setting to a commercial run, opening on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre on Wednesday, May 5th. And all this because Actors’ Equity Association works tirelessly to “advance, promote, foster and benefit all those connected with the art of the theatre and particularly the profession of acting . . .”

Feb 25, 2004 In celebration of Black History month, Andre De Shields signed autographs for the Charmettes Debutantes, a Florida middle school group, at the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee.

Photo Credit: James Gaines

"Lift Every Voice and Sing," De Shields leading the Charmettes in a rousing rendition of the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," at the Governor's Mansion, Tallahassee, FL

Photo Credit: James Gaines

Andre De Shields speaking at Florida State University, "101 Voice For Actors." Seated to Andre's right is MFA Directing Student Rory Ledbetter

Photo Credit: Rachel Bush

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