“I can go and sing a spiritual, sing it from my heart,” she said. “And as soon as I’m singing, I might call up the spirit of Harriet or a slave or the person who didn’t make it on those slave ships. ... Here I am, standing here, I’m 54 years old, living in Westport, Conn., free and able to walk freely. That’s a celebration.”
Wilson has been performing “A Journey ...” for six years, but the idea was born about 15 years ago, when she was working at Hurlbutt Elementary School in Weston, Conn. Her sister, also a Weston teacher, noticed that there was no program for African-American teaching and asked Wilson to put a show together.
Wilson started researching the civil rights movement and other African-American history. She teamed up with a friend to write what she describes as “a black history through music,” with songs ranging from spirituals to ragtime to modern-day rhythm and blues.
Realizing that she couldn’t travel with a friend and piano to boot, Wilson created a show that she could do with nothing but her voice, an audience and a stack of costumes.
“I tried to design something that I could self-produce,” she said. “I could go into schools and communities, and I could celebrate our story, the story through me, and be able to do my craft as an actress and singer.”
After much evolution, rewriting and rebranding, Wilson arrived at her current one-woman show.
Being the only member of the production has its advantages: Every show is different, as Wilson feels one “spirit” or another more strongly, or moves around verses in the old spirituals that make up the transitions.
“Last weekend, Maya just came out, spoke forth!” she said. “Harriet Tubman, her spirit was just jamming, that energy! ... The audience feedback as the play is going on, that give-and-take of live theater, that helps the spirit grow and move and celebrate.”