Spotsylvania youth production casts Black history in a new light

by | Feb 15, 2024 | ALLFFP, Arts and Entertainment

When the youthful cast of “Footsteps of Freedom” began rehearsal months ago, there was the laughter and lightheartedness one might expect from a play written and directed by a 9-year-old and starring many others around the same age. 

However, after adults explained that the Black history figures they were portraying had to fight for their freedom, the atmosphere shifted to one of seriousness and admiration. 

“We had to make them understand these people were running for their lives,” said Latrice Claiborne, a Spotsylvania County resident and the mother of writer/director Timothy “T.C.” Claiborne III.  

Director T.C. Claiborne, 10, poses with Caroline’s Promise director Shermeka Baker-Latney.

Latrice Claiborne said, T.C., the eldest of her four sons, had a strong desire to write and direct a play and build on his passion for music, theatre, film and writing short stories.  

The family has a background in production, so he leaned on his grandmother, Cordelia Smith, who produced plays for her church. 

“I just wanted to write a play,” T.C. said. “My grandma asked me if I could do Black history.” 

The main character in “Footsteps of Freedom” is Harriet Tubman — portrayed by Zion Bennett — one of more than 25 local youths who participated in the production. 

As Tubman became discouraged on her journey to lead slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad, she heard from future leaders who provided

inspiration that kept her pushing. 

Other prominent Black history figures featured in the script include the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Barack Obama. 

The play was well-received by the crowd, which roared and gave standing ovations after the musical performances, such as T.C.’s rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” 

Latrice Claiborne said many of the children discovered hidden talents during the months of rehearsal, and ultimately, the performance itself. 

“It was a great experience to help them find a new gift and to see their confidence grow,” she said. “Some of them never acted or sung before and they did very well. They learned a new skill they didn’t realize they had.” 

T.C. also participated in the marketing of the play. He appeared at the Caroline’s Promise Young Entrepreneurs Expo in Doswell in November and sold 50 tickets. His efforts, along with further social media promotion, helped to fill the 150-seat Allstate Community Theatre on Feb. 3 and Feb. 4. 

“I was really nervous the first [performance],” T.C. said. “But the second time I wasn’t that nervous.” 

The children bonded over three rounds of auditions. T.C.’s younger brother, Christian, 8, played King. T.C. treated them all to ice cream after the final showing. 

“They enjoyed being around each other so much,” Latrice Claiborne said. “They were all pretty upset when it ended because they were used to seeing each other at least once or twice a week.” 

The cast will reunite for a Juneteenth event in Fredericksburg that they were requested to attend. T.C., who turned 10 on Jan. 30, also pledges to begin working on a fall production to honor Native Americans.  

Ray Manfredi, the owner of Allstate Community Theatre, encouraged the crowd to donate to T.C.’s next endeavor because he believes that the young man has a bright future in theatre or whatever else he chooses to pursue. 

“He’ll make something happen,” Manfredi said. “This is a creative kid.” 

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