CANTON – The life of Canton native Sister Thea Bowman comes to life on stage in her hometown thanks to a performance of “Thea’s Turn” on Saturday, April 22, at 7:00 p.m. at the Canton High School Auditorium. The project has been declared an official state bicentennial project.
“Thea’s Turn” has strong ties to Canton beyond just Sister Thea’s upbringing. The play’s author, Mary Queen Donnelly, knew the title character while the two grew up in Canton. Canton native, Dr. Mark Henderson, chair of the department of speech, communication and theatre at Jackson State University, serves as executive director. The cast and crew include members of the nationally acclaimed MADDRAMA, an award winning drama troupe under his direction.
The play tells the story of Sister Thea Bowman from her childhood as Bertha Bowman through her conversion to Catholicism and vocation to religious life all the way to the discovery of cancer and her death. The scenes include periods from the late 1940’s through late 1989. Flonzie Brown-Wright, a classmate and playmate of Bertha (Sister Thea), saw the play in Madison during the summer of 2015 and thought it should be staged in Canton. She enlisted the help of Jana Padgett-Dear, executive director of the Canton Convention and Visitors Bureau. Padgett-Dear immediately agreed because in part, it continues her personal commitment to increase the awareness of Sister Thea’s life.
During the spring and summer of 2016, she spent endless hours working with Brown-Wright to update the large display of Sister Thea’s artifacts displayed at the Multicultural Center in town. Incidentally, Padgett-Dear never met Thea, but has been inspired by what she has read and heard about her.
The play attempts to capture the essence of Thea’s struggle of what it meant to be black and Catholic” and her ultimate decision to reconcile Bertha, the great- granddaughter of a slave, and her African American culture with that of the all- white, traditional culture of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse, Wis., where she was Sister Thea.
The play gives the viewer a broader understanding of the complexities of the multifaceted Thea. Donnelly used music to portray different periods of Thea’s life. Being a singer, Spirituals and Gospel songs allowed Bertha to remain connected to her southern heritage, while her appreciation for traditional Latin chant and church music gave her the opportunity to remain true to her beliefs as a Catholic sister.
The advisory committee for this production includes a number of people who knew Thea personally during their days at Holy Child Jesus School and Church, either as classmates, students, priests, parishioners, or members of the Thea Bowman Choir.
“Thea’s Turn” first premiered in New Orleans, LA and later in Madison, MS.
Readings continue as far away as New York City.
This official bicentennial project was made possible by a grant from the Mississippi Humanities through support from the Mississippi Development Authority.
To reserve seating and for more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (601) 859-1307.
(Story submitted by Flonzie Brown-Wright)