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Professor Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum wins national theater award

Woman performing on stage

Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum during a performance of Walking With My Ancestors. Photo by Russ Hawkins of AACT

Professor of Ethnomusicology Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum won the Outstanding Achievement in a Leading Role award from the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT) National Festival in Pennsylvania.

She won for her performance in Walking With My Ancestors, a play written by Aduonum and directed by Professor of Theatre Kim Pereira. Walking With My Ancestors was one of four finalists for the AACT Overall Outstanding Production award. It was the first time in nearly 40 years that anyone from Illinois had a production advance to the National AACTFest. The play was produced by Bloomington’s Coalescence Theatre Project under the direction of Don Shandrow, which also earned high marks at the national festival.

woman in shackles

Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum allowed herself to be shackled as part of her studies and experiences in the slave dungeons.

Walking With My Ancestors depicts Aduonum’s experiences in the slave dungeons of Elmina Castle and Cape Coast in Ghana, and the island of Gorée off the coast of Senegal. “It was an overwhelming and humbling experience to sit in those spaces, and imagine what the enslaved Africans—my ancestors—went through,” said Aduonum, who also performed a TedXNormal talk on her journey. “They were separated from families and children, and held for months…shackled and languishing for months at a time in those dark, damp, and insect-infested spaces.” Aduonum uses live African drumming, original poetry, singing, acting, and dancing to offer fresh perspectives on the experiences of the “forgotten” enslaved Africans and to demonstrate how today’s racial and cultural problems connect with truths of our shared and painful pasts.

During one of her explorations in the dungeons, Aduonum allowed herself to be shackled and left alone. “I asked a lot of questions, and was granted with a lot of ancestral knowledge,” she said.

headshot of Kim Pereira

Kim Pereira

“Directing this play was more than a theatrical experience,” said Pereira, who noted that throughout rehearsals and adaptations the work was a window into a piece of history. “The power of art is such that it revitalizes events and journeys in ways that offer us new perspectives, modern interpretations of stories of horror and survival that force a new reckoning. The spirits of the dead refuse to stay dead. They are always at our shoulders, reminding us that we should never be allowed to forget.”

Several people from the Bloomington-Normal ranks journeyed to the AACTFest competition in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. “The entire production crew—two of which are ISU Theatre alumni—went to Gettysburg as part of Oforiwaa’s wonderful play and dynamic performance,” said Shandrow, whose Coalescence Theatre Project was named  one of the top four community theatre companies in the nation.

Walking With My Ancestors won three awards at the Illinois Theatre Festival for outstanding original work, outstanding use of music, and outstanding performance this spring. The play also won three awards from AACT’s Region III competition this spring, including outstanding performance.

Aduonum said the play will deliver the message to rise in the face of struggle. “For generations to continue, we must choose to survive,” said Aduonum. “The lesson for me was that we have to keep moving on. We cannot live in fear.”

Watch Aduonum’s TedxNormal talk.

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