Levi Frazier’s biographical drama on stage in Poland

Southwest professor and Memphis playwright Levi Frazier's biographical drama, For Our Freedom and Yours, played on a Łódź, Poland stage during the Ira Aldridge Symposium last month. The play about the renowned 19th-century African-American actor and activist Ira Aldridge, who left America to find fame in Europe, debuted at Southwest Theater May 27, 2015. The play ran from May 27-28 and was an officially sanctioned 2015 Memphis In May event.

Southwest student and intern John Ripley (middle) is pictured with SergeIT General Manager Jonathan Parker and Southwest Career Services Coordinator Cortney Ward.
Attendees at the Ira Aldridge Symposium in Poland include Southwest adjunct professor Deborah Frazier (second row, center), associate professor Levi Frazier (third row, center), retired professor Evelyn Little (fourth row, second from right) and technical director Carl Slappy (front row, far right). Another familiar face is Ted Lang (fourth row, left of Levi) who played Isaac the bartender on the hit 1970s TV show The Love Boat.

Aldridge, the first black actor to play Othello in London and for whom Howard University's campus theater is named, was born a free man in 1807, but even in New York, opportunities for black actors were limited. He was only just beginning to make a name for himself as a serious actor when the growing popularity of blackface clowning and minstrel shows made it next to impossible for a skilled Shakespearean of color to find work in pre-Civil War America. So Aldridge left his native land for Liverpool, England and points beyond.

Besides writing the play, Frazier also served as production manager and director during its debut at Southwest and subsequent performances. He was sure to include Southwest students as technical personnel and actors in several minor roles.

Although students could not make the trip to Poland, Frazier, his wife Deborah, Southwest professor (retired) Evelyn Little and technical director Carl Slappy represented the College and the Mid-South. They showed a video of the play, attended several seminars on Aldridge and Frazier was introduced to the audience as the author of For Our Freedom and Yours. Immediately after our production, there was an engaging panel discussion about the play, Frazier said. Audience members enjoyed asking questions of Frazier, his wife Deborah, Little and actor Ted Lang who played beloved bartender Isaac on the 1970s sitcom The Love Boat. The enthusiastic crowd was not only very interested in how the play came about, but they also wanted to know about the directing of the play and the acting style within the production, Frazier said.

The trip was not only a celebration of Aldridge's accomplishments, but also what Frazier hopes is a beginning of a new partnership. One of the theatre directors in Lodz would like to develop a potential exchange between our theatre students and their acting students, Frazier said. I'm excited about the possibilities.