Black History Month starts off strong with one-man production

NAACP Theatre Award nominee Darryl Van Leer performed his signature “Power on Earth” piece in The University Unionon Feb. 1.

To start off Black History Month on Feb. 1, writer, director, and producer Darryl Van Leer performed his signature “Power on Earth” piece in The University Union.

The performance covered the lives of historical figures in the 19th and 20th centuries that you may not hear of in your typical history class.

Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey, Nat Turner, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were the eight significant figures portrayed on stage. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech played in its entirety as people slowly trickled into the Redwood Room.

Van Leer set the scenes with various sound effects and incorporated the audience into the story. This gave the crowd a chance to place themselves in the past.

When playing the role of U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren, Van Leer said “all rise, all rise” — repeating it until the crowd actually stood before the Brown v. Board of Education court case, which ordered that public schools be desegregated nationwide.

A mixture of seriousness and laughter filled the room that night. When Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters appeared on the stage, the crowd sang and danced along with the blues singers.

Kelly Kiernan – The State Hornet
Van Leer addresses the audience during his performance of “Power on Earth.” Leer played eight different characters in the show.

Van Leer had to improvise when he forgot the words to “Mannish Boy,” a song by Muddy Waters.

The crowd laughed with him when he sang “I’m a Sacramento State man! Know how to take care of everything!” instead of “I’m a full grown man! I’m a natural born lover’s man.”

Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon “The Drum Major Instinct”, preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church two months before he was assassinated, had the audience enraptured.

There was even more interaction when Van Leer opened the floor to allow the crowd to ask questions about his performance, 

“I wanted to tell pieces of history that people just don’t really hear about,” Van Leer said. “You just don’t hear about that particular scene on Douglass where he got into a fight with a slavemaster.”

The next Black History Month event is an MLK Sankofa Talk on Feb. 6, which will focus on literacy in the black community. It will be held at the MLK Center in Lassen Hall from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.