Dauphin County partners with Sankofa African American Theatre Company and Gamut Theatre to bring Harrisburg history to life for annual Black History Month Program in February

HARRISBURG, PA (January 30, 2020) In celebration of Black History Month in February, Dauphin County Commissioners Jeff Haste, Mike Pries and George P. Hartwick, III are partnering with Sankofa African American Theatre Company to present Voices of the Eighth 20/20: Rhythms of Resilience that features real-life stories from the late 1700s through 1925 in Harrisburg’s historic Old Eighth Ward, where the state Capitol Complex is today. The original play written by Sankofa’s Founder and Executive Artistic Director Sharia Benn will be presented to the general public at Gamut Theatre in downtown Harrisburg on Friday, Feb. 7 and Saturday, Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 9 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the community engagement price of $19 at GamutTheatre.org.

Voices of the Eighth 20/20: Rhythms of Resilience is based on research conducted by historians at Messiah College and includes music, projected photos from the time period, and original poetry written by students from Harrisburg High School – Sci Tech Campus. The presentation also celebrates the Commonwealth Monument, a historical landmark commemorating the Old Eighth Ward that is slated for completion in 2020.

“You can’t see a production like this anywhere else,” said Haste, who spearheaded the effort to develop a play based on Harrisburg’s rich history and ties to the abolitionist movement. “Many of us have never heard of Jacob T. Compton, a pastor who drove President Abraham Lincoln’s carriage during his visit to Harrisburg and disrupted an assassination plot against Lincoln before he was sworn into office. The story of Jacob Compton is one of many that will be told in Voices of the Eighth.” 

The play introduces abolitionists, suffragists, and poets in the Old Eighth Ward who were all instrumental in fighting for the freedom and rights that we enjoy today. Voices of the Eighth 20/20: Rhythms of Resilience explores the life of Anne E. Amos (1824-1911), abolitionist and suffragist who was instrumental in founding of Wesley Union AME, and Esther Popel (1896-1958), the first African American woman to attend Dickinson College and noted poet during the Harlem Renaissance.

“This program not only brings history to life but also features local talent and work by students in the Harrisburg School District,” said Pries. “It’s a chance for us to see how far we have all come and how far we have to go to bring about positive change.”

Each performance concludes with a talk-back discussion with audience members who wish to learn more about the production and our local history.

“Many chapters form the story of achievements by Black Americans throughout our history” said Hartwick. “It’s only fitting that we set aside the month of February to honor their contributions, which have enriched our lives and shaped the course of our history.”

The production is also sponsored by Highmark Blue Shield. 

Voices of the Eighth is a heartwarming journey through which the young and old, past and present, and gone but not forgotten connect to celebrate the history making contributions of African Americans who lived in the Old Eighth Ward,” said Benn.

About Sankofa African American Theatre Company:
Sankofa African American Theatre Company exists to engage and enrich the Harrisburg region around the African American perspective on issues through thought-provoking theatre that reflects artistic excellence.

Sankofa is an Akan (Ghana) word that means, "We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward;” so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today, thereby gaining wisdom, power, and hope to make positive progress through the sharing of this knowledge.  Learn more at sankofatheatrehbg.com.

About Gamut Theatre Group:
Gamut Theatre Group, Inc. is the combined theatre of Popcorn Hat Players Children’s Theatre and Harrisburg Shakespeare Company. Its mission is to tell classic stories in new and exciting ways.  Its vision is a world where all people cherish classic stories and share them with future generations.

Each year Gamut presents approximately 250 performances to 30,000 people. Moreover, 20,000 students per year enjoy our theatre school classes, workshops, residencies, and shows. Since our inception in 1993, Gamut has cumulatively reached over 630,000 children and adults through its touring and educational programs, and is consistently voted “Best Drama/Theatre Classes” as awarded by Central Penn Parent magazine.