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Leslie McCurdy Wows Crowds in Two Performances of Her One-Woman Play about Harriet Tubman

Angelitta Anderson

February 20, 2014

Canadian actress and playwright Leslie McCurdy performed two magnificent presentations of her solo adrenaline-charged historical drama “The Spirit of Harriet Tubman" February 19 in the Marian Anderson Music Center on the historic Cheyney University (CU) campus. In addition to CU students, faculty and staff, the captivated audience consisted of dozens of students from Sankofa Academy Charter School, more than 40 guests from the Coatesville Veterans Administration, and visitors from nearby West Chester University and Delaware County Community College. 

The audience watched intently during each performance as McCurdy told the story of Harriet Tubman who, despite being born into slavery in Maryland, escaped alone and returned to the south 19 times to lead over 300 slaves to freedom in the northern United States and Canada. McCurdy, who wrote the play, exquisitely embodied the spirit of the abolitionist from her childhood as a slave on a plantation, through her work on the Underground Railroad, to her later years as a free woman. She told the crowd that Tubman’s journey began with the freeing of her mind. “Fear can be as strong as chains,” she declared, using Tubman's own words.

Using a barren stage with only a trunk of costumes, McCurdy kept her one-woman show moving. She began by entering from the back of the auditorium, in full character as a frail, feeble elderly Tubman, singing the old Negro Spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.  Making her way down the aisle and onto the stage, she moved effortlessly back-and-forth between decades, skipping about as a little girl one moment, portraying Tubman--the courageous humanitarian, the next--and then moving back to her years as a slave.  McCurdy sang the spirituals beautifully and captivated the audience with her enthusiasm as she sprinted around the auditorium. She ended the performance in Tubman’s voice advising, "See what you want for yourself in your mind and don't let nobody change your mind."

A brief Q & A session wrapped up the afternoon and evening performances. “Always remember, we were enslaved because we were strong, not because we were inferior,” McCurdy said.

“This play was phenomenal,” remarked Lois A. Moss, Co-founder &Chief Administrative Officer, Sankofa Academy Charter School, following the performance.  The academy's history developer, John Stewart, agreed. “We have to be the voice of our own stories,” he said.  

More than 100 Cheyney students interacted with McCurdy a day earlier as the actress visited three classes as part of her efforts to give students academic engagement opportunities.

The next Arts & Lectures Series event will feature the Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers March 27 at 7:30 pm in Marian Anderson Music Center.  For tickets, click on cheyney.ticketleap.com/.