Uncategorized — April 26, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Brenda Brown Grooms : An African American Actress and Griot




……She’d been here before.

During a recent rehearsal of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, a feeling of recollection overcame Brenda Brown-Grooms as she recited her lines. She was in character as Bertha Holly, wife of Seth Holly and a boarding house matron who likes to bake biscuits, make coffee and care for her tenants with warmth and laughter. But Brown-Grooms knew it was more than a line that’d tipped off her déjà vu.

She glanced down at her feet, and when Brown-Grooms looked back up and out into the auditorium, she traveled back in time to when she was a second-grader, sitting in that very spot on the very same wooden stage, pretending to sew an American flag out of construction paper, a pair of brand-new sky-blue patent leather shoes peeking out from beneath her Betsy Ross costume.

She had, indeed, been here before.

“I just knew I was gorgeous,” says Brown-Grooms, laughing as she recalls the memory of her first play. “I don’t suspect Betsy had sky-blue shoes,” she says, but that didn’t matter one bit to young Brenda. “[Betsy] looked like me that day,” like a sky-blue shoe-wearing African-American second-grader attending the Jefferson School in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the early 1960s.

“I like this,” she remembers thinking.

Brown-Grooms, who fell in love with reading out loud as soon as her teacher, Mrs. Cage, introduced her to the alphabet in the first grade, had found the play on a school bookshelf just two weeks before and asked if she could perform it for the class. “Why not the whole school?” Brown-Grooms remembered Mrs. Cage asking.

And while Brown-Grooms liked performing, she loved knowing that “you can have an idea, and all of a sudden it’s born.”

Brown-Grooms, co-pastor of New Beginnings Christian Community here in Charlottesville, describes herself as “a diva and a ham.” She’s taught New Testament Greek language and grammar at the college level, she’s preached in cities all over the country, and has joined a theater troupe in every city she’s lived in: New York, New Jersey, California and elsewhere. But when she moved back to Charlottesville in 2011, she couldn’t find a troupe that seemed more fun than competitive.

The Reverend Brenda Brown-Grooms plays the role of Bertha Holly in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, which runs through April 29 at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. Brown-Grooms first performed on this stage in the early 1960s, as a second-grader at Jefferson Elementary School. Photo by Sanjay Suchak

Last September, Brown-Grooms caught a performance of Wilson’s Jitney, produced by the Charlottesville Players Guild on the Jefferson School stage, and she says she knew, in that moment, “I had found my peeps.”

“I am going to be in an August Wilson play,” Brown-Grooms declared after the lights went down. A few months later, she auditioned for Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and nabbed the role of Bertha Holly. And when Brown-Grooms steps onto the Jefferson School auditorium stage on opening night on April 18, she’ll again be wearing sky blue—this time, a dress.

At The Methodist Church, via Dei Benci, 9 Firenze 50122


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