By I. Giple Nagbe
Renowned Liberian playwright, Cori Thomas, arrived in Liberia over the weekend to ‘kick off’ the first phase of her Liberia Project. She is accompanied back home by popular African-American actor, Dion Graham.
Speaking to reporters at the Krystal Ocean view Hotel in Monrovia on Monday, April 29, 2013, she said her [Liberia] Project consists of selection and introductory training for former child soldiers. Introducing Ms. Thomas at the Press briefing, was James Emmanuel Roberts, whose Blamadon Center for the Arts is partnering with Pa’s Foundation—Ms. Thomas’ non-profit organization.
Continuing, Roberts himself an accomplished actor, playwright and dramatist, known widely by his stage name, Kona Khasu, intimated that the Liberia Project is aimed at “using theatre to address” issues relating to “loss or confused identity, social isolation, political instability and societal disequilibrium” in post-war Liberia.
Responding to the Press about the financial cost of her project, Cori Thomas averred that her visit to Liberia is more or less a “finding out” trip, meant to add an international zest to the project and that though it is almost a local one, she said it would involve bringing in about five other professional artists from the United States (US). Continuing, the playwright told her audience, she is yet to find out from them what they would want in terms of financial benefits to contribute their time and resources to the Liberian Project. She however agreed that the project is cost-intensive, “very huge” but said it is too soon to put a figure on it. The [Liberia] Project according to Ms. Thomas, also seeks to design a “peace and reconciliation arts education curriculum” for the Liberian school system.
Cori Thomas is the daughter of a former Liberian envoy to the United Nations, Ambassador David Thomas. The late Liberian diplomat died at 92 in 2009, Virginia, the United States of America. Thomas served in several top Ambassadorial positions including Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Cameroon, and Switzerland.
Cori has written over ten full length and short plays which have been performed in major theatres throughout the US. Prominent among her plays with direct linkage to her parental homeland is Pa’s Hat, named in honor of her father.
For his part, Mr. Graham, who has performed both on and off-Broadway, as well as coming from a background of growing up in adversity in the 19 60’s and 70’s era in the US, say he “understands fully well” what Liberians have gone through during the nearly decade and a half period of civil conflict. Recounting his poor but humble upbringing, he said, his mother had to work couple of jobs to put food on the table at the same time, provide for her own education and that of children. The actor said he sees education in any form as a “platform to a better life.”
The popular African-American TV personality and The Wire star has worked with diverse groups from as far apart as the US and Africa, teaching and facilitating workshops at all levels from the very young to seasoned professionals through various schools, universities and organizations including, Educational Theatre Association, Playwright’s Theatre of New Jersey, Tennessee Arts Projects amongst many others.
Graham is the series narrator of the First 48 episode, an “American documentary television series” shown on A&E, a popular US network. “The series offers an insider’s look at the real-life world of homicide investigators.” He also told reporters that his passion and commitment to work with young people in acting, writing and leadership, is “stimulating, challenging and consistently rewarding,” this Graham added “motivated” him to support in a big way the Liberian Project. His artistic worked has been praised as thoughtful and compelling, vivid and full of life. He has worked with the International Theatre and Literacy Project that helped young Tanzanian students write, dramatize and perform their own stories in Tanzanian.
Dion Graham as a voiceover artist has also narrated two documentaries, Liberia: A Fragile Peace, and Reconstruction: The Second Civil War, Culture Shock and Glory, which are both due for theatrical release soon in the US and other parts of the world.
Cori Thomas and Dion Graham are in Liberia until Sunday, May 12, 2013, interviewing performers, potential partners, as well as to cap the [Liberia] Project for implementation in January next year.
Photo credit: americantheatrecritics.org