Playwright chases a story of Anna Kingsley around Africa and brings it home
Published: Thursday, March 8, 2012
Updated: Friday, March 9, 2012 11:03
Professor Jennifer Chase shared the story of Anna Kingsley, a princess taken from her land in West Africa then enslaved in Florida at Kent Campus Feb. 22.
Chase, an English and creative writing instructor at FSCJ Downtown Campus, was born in Massachusetts but eventually made her way to West Africa after receiving a rotary scholarship.
Her fascination with the life of Anna Kingsley began when she wrote a song about the princess during her time in Africa. She began researching the life and history of Kingsley, planning on turning the story into a play.
"I stand behind my own five years of research for the play, my own choices also for the overall message of strength, perseverance and celebration of the human spirit, as well as the very long list of scholars here and abroad who gave their approval to my script and research," Chase said.
In 2005, Chase released her play, Majigeen, based on the life of Kinglsey. In 2006 she was invited to perform at Kingsley plantation.
Chase provided the audience with information about Kingsley and enhanced the experience by introducing live portions of her play. The performance began with the scene "The Doorway of No Return," which symbolizes the collective conscience of humanity.
At age 13, Kingsley was captured by the warriors of the current non-Muslim king of Senegal, King Andela. This symbolized a moment in her life where she met the "doorway of no return" because she would leave the only life she knew in Senegal to be kept as a slave in Florida. After she was captured, she was transported to a slave ship headed toward Cuba, where she met her future husband Zephaniah, a wealthy farmer who was buying goods and slaves.
Soon, despite the cultural taboo of interracial marriage, they were wedded. About 3 years later, Zephaniah publicly freed his wife, taking the controversial standpoint of the Spanish system of slavery, which recognized that colored people could be freed.
News came that southern rebels were coming to raid the plantation, and Anna Kingsley took charge. She rushed to the Spanish to seek help, but they didn't believe her when she told them of the rebels' plans. So she took her kids and workers and hid them in the woods while she set fire to the whole plantation so that the rebels would not be able to overtake her home. In this scene, the dancers portray the flames of the fire in the plantation that Kingsley had created.
Chase brought the same inspiration that she gained from Anna Kingsley to the FSCJ students, allowing the audience a chance to delve into the culture that she grew to love during her years in Senegal gathering information for the play.
"The music and dancing added the cultural dimension to the historical perspective for the students of my HUM 2020 class on Northeast Florida history and culture. Jen Chase and her cast have done an outstanding job. I hope to see Majigeen on broadway one day," said FSCJ humanities professor Jenny Ohayon.
Besides gracing the FSCJ stage with her work, Chase also founded Jacksonville Artist Company at Kent, a club devoted to writers, musicians, thesbians and artists of all kinds.
For Chase, the theatrics didn't stop with Majigeen. She is working on a play called La Caroline, which is bound to be as intriguing as the life of Anna Kingsley.