Tazewell Thompson is an internationally acclaimed playwright, teacher, and actor bringing voices to black singers, performers, and artists.
Music is freedom.
Tazewell Thompson is uniquely able to speak on "What Freedom Means to You," one of our scholars' three subjects of discussion this year. Freedom takes on a different meaning to every individual; the word in itself carries a host of different meaning in context. For the artist, Tazewell tells us that freedom is the right to create, to have a voice, to wield the instrument, brush, or pen. Freedom is eduction, the right to knowledge, and free thought.
To the singer, freedom is the right to the voice. When the institution of slavery was still in place in America, Black people were able to exercise this right when they had almost none else. While locked in chains and forced to perform back-breaking labor, the so called "negro spiritual" (a type of song combining European Christian hymns with a variety of African musics) was an expression that couldn't be taken from the enslaved peple in even the hardest times. To Tazewell, the spiritual is emancipation. Education is freedom.
For Tazewell, however, freedom goes beyond an understanding of American history and looking at the oppression rooted deep in its past. As a director working in a field that is dominated by White directors and playwrights, freedom means even having an opportunity to perform, to share his work, and to give voices to fellow Black artists. Tazewell explained that while White directors explore classic works like Shakespeare from new perspectives they are relatively free of criticism. When he and other Black performers seek to do similar creative work, they are looked at with a scrupulous eye.
Tazewell encourages artists to break down barriers. He told us about teaching masters level opera courses and having students shocked with assignments to prepare poetic readings for their studies. For him, it was not only beneficial but a necessary exercise for these students, even though they may not read a line of poetry again after the class. It gave them an experience that seemed different from what they expected, making them better performers, and better artists.