The Gullah/Geechee Nation's Queen Quet and local performers stage a show about a unique slice of African-American heritage. | Theater Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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The Gullah/Geechee Nation's Queen Quet and local performers stage a show about a unique slice of African-American heritage.

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Queen Quet is chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, a culture occupying parts of South Carolina and Georgia and tracing its roots to Africa. The nation's forebears -- slaves who lived in relative isolation along the coastal Sea Islands -- maintained a considerable amount of African culture. On Oct. 13-14, Queen Quet (a.k.a. Marquetta Goodwine) visits Pittsburgh with I'll Fly Away to Freedom, an original group performance incorporating music, dance, history and the uniquely rhythmic hybrid that is the Gullah/Geeche language. ("Hunnuh mus tek cyare de root fuh heal de tree," runs a Gullah maxim: You must take care of the root to heal the tree.) The show, developed with and featuring a troupe of Pittsburgh-based actors, drummers and singers, is based on a folk tale about Africans who escaped slavery by flying. City Paper interviewed her via e-mail.

Why are you coming to Pittsburgh?

My goal in coming to Pittsburgh is to raise awareness [in] the community [about] the existence of this unique African culture. I also seek to gain more supporters of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition that is currently in the midst of a $12,000 archival-upgrade fund-raising drive and a 1,000-new-members drive.

The production, by the Legacy Arts Project, should enlighten people about the language, spiritual traditions and history of Gullah/Geechee people.

What motivates you?

I do this work to honor my ancestors and elders that worked hard without ever being respected for what they contributed to the building of the United States, England and the world. Their stories are what the world needs to know, in order to assist in protecting [this culture].

You've studied mathematics and computer science. Is storytelling science or art?

I am not a storyteller. I continue the practices of my own traditions and share the methods of said practices with the world. That method of interdisciplinary interaction and cross-cultural communication is definitely a science and an art. One must have the ability to "feel" the audience and quickly process and access their purpose for being there, and also what will connect with their interest and then transmit this in a format that will be "edu-taining" in some cases, and heartfelt and intellectually stimulating in others.

What do people respond to in your work?

At all times, I seek to bring healing energy to people that I encounter and I pray that is conveyed through the songs, the words, and the energy when I get to Pittsburgh. I am working with the children of the African diaspora there to dig deeper into the soil of their souls and their existence in order to bring healing to them as fruits of the African tree that has grown in North America. Many of them came from seeds that blew from the Gullah/Geechee Nation's tree. So, if we are all to heal, we must take up the tools and dig down into our story together. The energy to let the spirits soar and truly fly lies beneath the surface.

I'll Fly Away to Freedom 7 p.m. Sat., Oct. 13, and 3 p.m. Sun., Oct. 14. Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty. Oct. 13 tickets: $15 ($20 at the door; $5 children under 12); Oct. 14 tickets: $10 ($15 at the door; $5 children under 12). 412-394-3353 or www.ProArtstickets.org.

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