By Jenna Purcell
City on a Hill Press Reporter
UC Santa Cruz alumna Adilah Barnes, an actor whose credits now include “Murder by Numbers,” “Erin Brockovich” and ABC’s “Roseanne,” returned to her alma mater Wednesday night to once again grace the Santa Cruz community with her artistry. Her one-woman show, “I Am That I Am, Woman, Black,” which has now enlightened audiences on three continents, did the same for the inhabitants of the Colleges Nine and Ten Multipurpose Room. It brought to the surface over 200 years of hardships and earnest accomplishments among black women.
“I Am That I Am, Woman, Black” follows the lives of seven prominent black women: Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Mary McLeod Bethune, Zora Neale Hurston, Lorraine Hansberry, Angela Davis and Maya Angelou. In her research, Barnes found that more than gender and race connected these women.
“The show is a testament to the fortitude of seven historical African-American women, the difficult choices they made, and how they impacted society,” Barnes said. “They all had a lasting impression and overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles.”
In order to make the show rich in historical fact, Barnes did extensive research. Barnes hopes what she learned will have a lasting impression on her audiences.
“I call this ‘edutainment,’ as I strive to create theater that both entertains and educates,” Barnes said. “First and foremost, I do want the audience to be entertained. With theater, that is our main job. Secondly, I want the audience to leave with a sense of awe in terms of the achievements of these seven particular women. I want them to be inspired. If these women can achieve their goals in the face of hardships, maybe the rest of us can too.”
The show has a special significance geared toward today’s modern woman, said Barnes’ publicist Allison Queen.
“In this day and age, so many women are fighting and trying to hang on to their property and their jobs,” Queen said. “In that sense, the show really celebrates the abilities of all women.”
Barnes, who earned her B.A. from the UCSC theater arts department, said the show is especially significant for another demographic: college students.
“Besides a nice break from their studies, this performance allows theater to further students’ education,” Barnes said. “Especially for students majoring in black studies, history, theater, and women’s studies, performances like this emphasize the relevance of their major and allow them to see it in living, breathing human beings.”
The cultural aspects of the show were especially important for students, said Donald Williams, who helped to organize Barnes’ UCSC appearance.
“I am so thankful that Colleges Nine and Ten helped to sponsor this event,” Williams said. “It’s so important that UCSC students understand that other cultures do exist. Arts of color like this allow audiences to get the full flavor of life. It is so necessary that students be exposed to different cultures — it enriches society as a whole.”
When asked how she felt about performing for the UCSC student body, Barnes said she was thrilled.
“I’m very excited to return to UC Santa Cruz,” Barnes said. “This campus marks my coming of age, leaving my small hometown of Oroville, California for the first time and entering the realm of academia.”
While numerous revues and theaters claim Barnes, it is the undergraduate theater experience at UCSC, including a self-directed one-woman show in the infamous Barn Theater, which deeply affected Barnes.
“I stayed with my craft,” Barnes said. “I expanded into television, coaching theater, film, but I never left the field. At the core, I’m still a stage actor. This is who I am.”
<i>Adilah Barnes will be signing her new book “On My Own Terms: One Actor’s Journey” at the Baytree Bookstore today, Jan. 29, at 12 p.m.</i>