There are three women without whom this play, Genealogy, doesn’t happen. Joe Queenan and T.J. Elliott had worked on Genealogy for well over a year, but as one of their relatives had opined, “What are two white men doing writing a play about race, slavery, and reparations?”
Indeed. We had the same nervous thought occasionally and wanted to reach out to others we respected to get the opinion of those whose heritage IS the major subject of this work. Cheryl Aaron , a dear friend and former colleague, was the first reader to encourage us to keep on going, and that allowed us to believe in our own work in a different way. Then Quanda Johnson, who first connected with Knowledge Workings Theater in the Zoom production of within the context of no context by the late George W.S. Trow in November 2020, read the script and encouraged us to mount a production of Genealogy. One of our heroes, Seamus Heaney wrote of writers that “we must teach ourselves to walk on air against our better judgment.” But when someone like Quanda emboldens us with her support, that walking on air comes more easily.
Anyone looking even casually at all of the superb things that Quanda has done and accomplished will understand the joy that we felt at her acceptance of our work. (The third woman giving us courage, of course, was our marvelous director and co-producer Dana Pellebon to whom Quanda introduced us, but more about Dana in the next post in this series.)
Quanda is a Fulbright Scholar and a current doctoral student in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies at UW – Madison, pursuing a doctoral minor in Afro-American Studies. She is now at the dissertator phase. As a Dean’s Graduate Scholar at New York University’s Gallatin School (MA 2017), she presented her work, In Search of Negroland: a different study of the negro race and The Ballad of Anthony Crawford: a love letter to america at the Gallatin Art Festivals 2016 and 2017.
From Broadway to grand opera, Quanda seeks ways to utilize performance to disrupt and consequently alter entrenched, cyclical conversations about Blackness and the African Diaspora. Awarded the Fulbright Community Leadership Program Grant, she wrote, edited, and directed Beyond the Veil of the Sorrow Songs, which examined the Underground Railroad related to Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and current Maritime racial issues. Performed in the spring of 2014 at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie Arts Center (Halifax) and Alderney Landing Theatre (Dartmouth), it was welcomed at New York University (February 2018) at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.
Quanda earned a MFA in Acting from New School University and a Master of Music degree from the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College. An AUDELCO Award nominee for her portrayal of Marian Anderson, she appeared in Broadway’s Tony award winning Ragtime and made her New York City Opera debut in The Mother of Us All with Lauren Flanigan.
Her work is dedicated to the memory of the first artist in her life, her mother, Vernetta. We hope that many of you will get to see Quanda as Aaliyah Levin-Wilson in Genealogy November 5th through November 20th at Broom Street Theater or (as we are working to arrange) in a live stream of one of these performances. She brings to life with passion and intelligence a woman intent on gaining for her people what they deserve. Tickets are available for purchase here.