by Diana Castro-Vazquez
During the month of October, “Rebellious,” a Triad Stage production, told the story of the Bennett Belles. Triad Stage described this play as a “powerful World Premiere production that follows four Bennett Belles through the Sit-in Movement. They must navigate the complexities of friendship, their growing sense of self and the brutal racism and oppression that they face in daily interactions in our hometown of Greensboro. As they work to define who they are in this crucial moment in time, they must decide if and how they will take a stand and be rebellious.”
From October 4 until October 23, we had the opportunity to see a wonderful play written by Mike Wiley and directed by Donna Baldwin-Bradby.
“Rebellious” starred Victoria Pittman-Morris as Berta, Jada Wesley as Geneva, Jordan Hankerson as Gloria, Corin Davis as Spicy, Hilda Willis as the Tour Guide and Dr. Willa Player, Donald E. Watkins (a GC Alum) as all the black male roles, Elise Kimple as all the white woman roles and Brian Mullins as all the white male roles.
Most people in North Carolina have heard about the Greensboro Four – four young African-American students who staged a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro and refused to leave after being denied service. The four men were Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil, students of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. What most people do not know is that there was a group of girls that helped start this sit-in and many more protests around Greensboro. These girls are the Bennett Belles, from Bennett College in Greensboro.
Bennett College states that “long before 1960 when the Bennett Belles joined in solidarity with the four North Carolina A&T State University students… they picketed the Carolina Theater in 1938 over its racist practice of editing African Americans out of films. Bennett’s activism in the late 1930s has not been nearly as well documented as its involvement in the Sit-In Movement, which is told in “Belles of Liberty: Gender, Bennett College and the Civil Rights Movement in Greensboro, North Carolina.” The book, written by Bennett graduate Dr. Linda B. Brown, details the strategic planning behind the sit-ins and the active role Bennett Belles played.
The production “Rebellious” follows the story of four girls: Spicy, Geneva, Berta and Gloria, who meet at Bennett College and want to make a difference for all black people that were facing segregation. It is important to note that these girls did not exist in real life, but the story is true.
On October 13, 2022, Triad Stage Productions gave the audience an opportunity to ask the cast questions about the play and their experience. Rehearsal started September 6 and was five days a week for six to eight hours a day. Everyone involved in the production had to get Covid tested three times a week as well. Triad Stage believes that “Rebellious” has true potential to expand beyond Triad Stage.
The cast named October 8 as “Bennett Day,” because many past and current Bennett Belles came to see the play that day, including the president. The Bennett Belles said that they saw themselves being represented and they saw each other in one of the characters. The cast all agreed that it was one of their most nerve-wracking days. The sons of the Greensboro Four also attended the play at some point.
The cast mentioned that throughout the whole process of rehearsing, there were constant changes being made to the script. One of the biggest changes was when they got a bunch of new lines right before opening night. The cast stated that they had to learn to adapt to any changes that were made.
Davis mentioned that when she took the role of Spicy, she did not have much knowledge of the Bennett Belles and that “it was about time to shed light on their story.” She stated that while learning about the history of the Bennett Belles she became very angry. She was frustrated because their story is not always told and there were people that went through this. She believes that people should do better and advocate more.
Hankerson commented that she felt very comfortable with her cast and really loves them, while Wesley said that all the cast built trust with each other and that everyone was very encouraging. Watkins pointed out that long with everyone being comfortable with each other, everyone was also nice, and it made everything so much easier. Mullins explained that he had a very hard time and was very uncomfortable when he had to read his lines the first time, but he was thankful to Davis because she helped him get comfortable with the difficult scenarios where he played a racist white man.
Watkins mentioned that almost every night he changed his characters in a small way. Since he played a couple of characters, he did not want them to blend together, so he put himself in their shoes to try and make them different and give his characters life.
In regard to props and costumes, Pittman-Morris, Davis, Wesley and Hankerson loved the majority of their outfits except for the kitten heels they had to wear. The chairs that they used to represent the seats that were at the lunch counter at Woolworths were actually real chairs that came from Woolworths – the props supervisor drove all the way to New Jersey to get them.
“It has been a joy watching these young people step into this work. I wish all the young people learned the history of the Bennett Belles,” said Willis.