‘At Buffalo’ explores racial exhibits at 1901 World’s Fair

Workshop production of ‘musical in progress’ at CU-Boulder Dec. 6-7

Audiences who want to “be there at the beginning” will have a chance to do just that during a workshop production of “At Buffalo,” a musical-in-progress about conflicting visions of blackness at the 1901 World’s Fair in Buffalo, N.Y.

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The play dramatizes history long forgotten — or more likely, never known — to most Americans. Three exhibits, “Darkest Africa,” “Old Plantation” and “The American Negro Exhibit” offered very different visions of the black experience.

The first featured Africans brought in to live in an “authentic” African village and the second showed southern African-Americans living happily as slaves in the Old South. Just a mile away, the third exhibit, created by such intellectuals as W.E.B. Du Bois, explored the achievements of African Americans. The project is based on archival materials from the time of the fair.

“The fair left behind a fragmented archive of descriptions, newspaper articles, photographs and film clips that sheds new light on a critical moment in the construction of race and American identity,” says Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin, assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, who is creating the musical with colleagues in New York, Berkeley, and CU. “We’re really aiming to make present the experience of this material from 112 years ago.”

The two workshop performances will give the creators an opportunity to gauge audience engagement while the musical is in development.

“This is the first time anyone will be seeing any treatment and examination of the black presence at the 1901 fair,” Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin says. “The first taste of this must come before a live audience. The world’s fair was live and we are trying to recreate that sensory experience.”

“At Buffalo”
A new musical in progress

Book by Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin and Joshua Williams
Original Music and Archival Music Arrangement by Khalil Sullivan
Original Lyrics by Khalil Sullivan with Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin and Joshua Williams
Story Conceived by (alpha order) Jim Augustine, Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin, Khalil Sullivan, and Joshua Williams
Directed by Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin

Where: ATLAS Black Box theatre, University of Colorado Boulder
When: 7:30 p.m., Dec. 6-7
Tickets: SOLD OUT!
Box Office: 303-492-8008; or go to cupresents.org