Produced by the Charleston Gaillard Center

Finding Freedom: The Journey of Robert Smalls
Story by Teralyn Reiter. Script developed by JaMeeka Holloway, Celeste Jennings, Caroline Randall Williams, and Teralyn Reiter. Gullah Cultural Consultant Dr. Jessica Berry.

Oct 6, 2023 at 7:30 pm
Oct 7, 2023 at 2:00 pm

About the Show

The Charleston Gaillard Center is proud to present its first ever produced theatrical work. Based on the awe-inspiring life of South Carolina’s own Robert Smalls, FINDING FREEDOM: The Journey of Robert Smalls, story by Teralyn Reiter, script developed by JaMeeka Holloway, Celeste Jennings, Caroline Randall Williams, and Teralyn Reiter, celebrates and chronicles the remarkable story and legacy of a great American hero.

Born enslaved on the McKee Plantation in Beaufort, SC a young Robert Smalls is sent off to Charleston to work on the docks of the Charleston Harbor during the Civil War.  Trusted by his family, and crewmates and determined beyond his circumstances, on a foggy night, in the early hours of May 13, 1862, Robert changes the course of his destiny and history when he seizes the Confederate’s USS Planter and steers it into the Union Blockade off the coast of Charleston Harbor. 

Infusing music, media, and movement, FINDING FREEDOM paints the early years of a bright-eyed Robert Smalls enslaved in Beaufort; learning the land, waters, and Gullah traditions of his mother, his daring and heroic commandeering of the USS Planter through the Charleston Harbor during the Civil War, to his later life of advocacy in the US House of Representatives. 

Featuring original music composed by Charleston native, Charlton Singleton, FINDING FREEDOM: The Journey of Robert Smalls is Directed by JaMeeka Holloway with a Creative Design team of Artists all hailing from the South.  

Join us for an unforgettable storytelling and cultural experience where a young Robert Smalls is sent from Beaufort to Charleston on a journey that transforms him from man to Hero.

Holloway said, “this is also going to be a celebration of Black excellence and Black culture and Gullah culture. […] We want to offer Black audience members the opportunity to see themselves in all of it, in the glory and humanity. He had these moments of great fear, and yet he persisted. It’s so important to me that you can see that — that people can take that away, especially the students,” she said.

Charleston City Paper

$10 Community Tickets | SOLD OUT

We are committed to creating inclusionary and equitable opportunities for all audiences. The Gaillard provides opportunities that enhance access to the arts locally and across the state of South Carolina, amplify a variety of artistic voices that reflect the city’s vibrant diversity, and create an environment where everyone feels valued and welcome.

The Charleston Gaillard Center’s Education & Community Program is pleased to announce $10 community tickets are available for this performance. 

Pink Seats on Seat Map. Limited availability.

Pre-Show Panel Celebrating Robert Smalls | October 6 | 5:30PM-6:30PM

Location: Charleston Gaillard Ballroom

Please join us for an evening highlighting and celebrating our own local hero, Robert Smalls. Our pre-performance panel participants will discuss the Reconstruction Era, a period in which Robert Smalls was particularly influential, from a variety of different perspectives. Featuring Michael Boulware Moore, Businessman and the Great-Great-Grandson of Robert Smalls, Victoria Smalls, the Executive Director Gullah-Geechee Heritage Corridor and Michael Allen, Historian and Reconstruction Era National Monument lead team member. This panel will allow participants to broaden their knowledge on a topic that is featured in the play, but will be further expanded by the knowledge of our local experts.


MBMoore Photo.jpg

Michael B. Moore is a proud South Carolinian with a rich family history rooted in activism and public service. His ancestors include: Robert Smalls, a Civil War hero and Reconstruction Congressman, SC lawyer and legislator Samuel Jones Bampfield, and Judge Harold Boulware – who litigated the Briggs v. Elliott case and served on the legal team that won Brown v. Board of Education.

With a BA in Political Science from Syracuse University and an MBA from Duke University, Michael has a diverse background in business, having held leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurial ventures, and non-profits. He has managed the largest brand in the world, led a pioneering internet software company, and served as CEO of both Glory Foods and the International African American Museum.

Recognized as one of Charleston Business Magazine’s 50 Most Influential, Michael received an honorary Doctorate in Public History from Dickinson College, and was honored with “Michael Boulware Moore Day” by the City of Charleston. 

Michael is currently a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina’s first congressional district.


Victoria Smalls, Executive Director, is a Gullah Geechee native of St. Helena Island in Beaufort County, South Carolina, who specializes in Gullah Geechee history and culture, as a preservationist, historian, educator, artist, and arts advocate. She proudly served the National Park Service as a National Park Ranger with Reconstruction Era National Historical Park, served at Penn School National Historic Landmark District – Penn Center as Director of the History, Art and Culture Program, Director of the York W. Bailey Museum, and Assistant to the Executive Director, served as Program Manager for the International African American Museum in Charleston, SC, served as an educator for Beaufort County School District, and served as a Federal Commissioner on the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission. Ms. Smalls is a Leo Twiggs Arts Diversity Leadership Scholar, Riley Fellow in Diversity Leadership with The Riley Institute at Furman University, and is currently, a State Commissioner for the SC African American Heritage Commission. She attended South Carolina State University, Technical College of the Lowcountry, and University of South Carolina-Beaufort. Ms. Smalls is the newly appointed Executive Director of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor National Heritage Area.  In this role, she helps to recognize, sustain, and celebrate the important contributions made to American culture and history by the Gullah Geechee; to assist federal, state, and local governments and public and private entities in South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida in interpreting the story of the Gullah Geechee and preserving the culture for the benefit and education of the public.


Michael A. Allen grew up in Kingstree, South Carolina; he is a 1978 graduate of Kingstree Senior High, as well as a 1982 graduate of South Carolina State College with a degree in History Education. He began his public career with the National Park Service in 1980 as CO-OP Education Student. He has served as a Park Ranger, Education Specialist as well as the Community Partnership Specialist for The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor/Fort Sumter National Monument and Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.  In 2014, he was assigned by the National Park Service to participate as a lead team member on The NPS Special Resource Landmark Study exploring the history and legacy of The Reconstruction Era in American History. Because of this groundbreaking effort, a new national park service site was establishment by Presidential Proclamation, Reconstruction Era National Monument on January 12, 2017.  In December 2017, Michael Allen retired from the National Park Service after a 37 and half years’ career of public service. He is also the husband of Latanya Prather and father of Brandon, Shaelyn and Isaiah. He lives in Mount Pleasant, SC and is active in community affairs.

Michael Allen has been a community activist for most of his professional life. He has a deep-seeded interest in our nation’s spiritual growth as it relates to the history and culture. He played a major role in the National Park Service’s Gullah-Geechee Special Resource Study, which began in 2000. The Gullah-Geechee Special Resource Study examined the feasibility and suitability of establishing educational centers as well as determining ways to increase interpretation and preservation of this valuable culture. The final report was presented to Congress in the May of 2005. In October of 2006 the US Congress through the leadership of fellow SCSU Alumnus Congressman James E. Clyburn, and the tireless support of Michael Allen the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Act was passed which established the first and only African American National Heritage Area in the Country.  In October of 2007, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Commission, which was comprised of 25 Grassroots citizens’ members from all four states of the corridor. His primary responsibility was to ensure that this new National Heritage Area become a reality in an effort to provide hope, opportunity and support to grass root organizations and the wider Gullah Geechee Community. In October of 2009, he was formally elevated to the Director’s Position for the Corridor and directed the efforts of the corridor to develop a Management plan that will guide the operations of the corridor for the future.

Throughout his career, Michael Allen was involved in designing exhibits and presenting interpretive programs that involve local communities and history. These programs were designed to attract non-traditional audiences to National Park Service and other historic sites. He was instrumental in 1999, in erecting the “African Importation Historic Marker” on Sullivan Island; in 2008, he assisted the Toni Morrison Society and the College of Charleston in erecting a “Bench by the Road” commemorative bench at Fort Moultrie to memorialize the islands participation in the African slave trade. Finally, in 2009 he was instrumental in unveiling “African Passages” an exhibit that highlights the African arrival, presence and contributions to Gullah Geechee Culture and American society through the eyes of Africans and African American who passed through Sullivan Island on their way to be enslaved in the Charleston and beyond. An additional focus of his career has been the inclusion of the socio-economic and political influences that brought the country to Civil War. He was appointed and serve on the South Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee that oversaw the observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War as well as the events of Reconstruction.

He also has been involved in a number of other innovative projects designed to engage new audiences in understanding and appreciating African and American history.  He was a founding Board Member of the International African American Museum, which is slated to open in January of 2023 in Charleston SC. It will offer a glimpse of Africans and African Americans contributions in the making of the modern world.  In addition to his association with the International African American Museum, in 1993 he was a founding member and former Vice President of the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission.  He was the past Treasure for the South Carolina Council for African American studies. He also served as a board member for a number of local and statewide organizations such as, The African American Historical Alliance, Habitat for Humanity’s East Cooper and the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association and the Long Point Road Historic School Association. On June 11, 2013, Michael Allen received the 2013 Historic Preservation Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the Governor Office, Palmetto Trust and the South Carolina Dept. of Archives and History. He was presented with the SC State University Distinguished Alumnus Award during Founders Day weekend on March 2, 2014.  In September 2014 Michael Allen, was recognized for his exemplary leadership in environmental issues at the George B. Hertzog Jr. Awards Luncheon, an annual event hosted by the Institute for Parks at Clemson University. The luncheon and lecture are named for Hartzog, the seventh director of the National Park Service. During the luncheon, Allen received the Robert G. Stanton Award, named in appreciation of the remarkable career of Stanton, the first African-American director of the National Park Service. The Robert G. Stanton Award recognizes recipients for sustained and innovative achievements in promoting racial or ethnic diversity in the management of North America’s natural, historic and cultural heritage. In 2015 The South Carolina African American Heritage Commission recognized Michael by presenting him with the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2016, Michael Allen received The Williamsburg County School District Hall of Fame Award as an outstanding graduate of Williamsburg County School system. In April 2019, Governor Henry McMaster recognized Michael with the Order of the Palmetto. This is the highest civilian award to be given to citizens of South Carolina by the Governor of the South Carolina.  In additional to these awards he has received a number of other awards from Fraternal, Civic, Governmental and Community organizations. In January of 2021 Michael received the Martin Luther King Portrait Awards. This award recognizes people who emulate the spirit of community service portrayed by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Finally, on October 21, 2021 Michael Allen was awarded the 2021 Governor’s Award in Humanities which recognize outstanding achievement in helping communities in South Carolina better understand our cultural heritage.

Since his retirement he is still active and vested in preserving the life, legacy, contributions and heritage of African Americans in the context of SC and US history. He was instrumental in assisting Historic Charleston Foundation in the management of the Mosquito Beach Civil Rights Project (2018-2020). This NPS funded project on James Island, resulted in the nomination and inclusion of this Historic Civil Rights landscape to the NPS National Register of Historic Places in October of 2019. In additional, in February 2020 a website was created and launched to capture the humanitarian spirit of this valuable resource. In addition, a SC State Historic Marker and interpretative panels will soon be place near the entrance to Mosquito beach and along the historic corridor of this site. In August of 2019 Michael partnered with Reconstruction Beaufort a community and nationwide efforts to highlight the history and legacy of the Reconstruction Period. He served as the former Chair of the Advisory Board for this organization. This effort was developed to enhance the capacity of the Reconstruction Era National Historic Site as well as to assist with enhance educational awareness of this challenging period in American History.

Michael currently serves as Community Preservation Specialist at SC State University his Alma Mater in Orangeburg SC. Michael is supporting the University in managing a HBCU grant from the National Park Service. This grant is funding the restoration and rehabilitation of Wilkinson Hall one of the oldest structure on the campus of South Carolina State University. His primary responsibilities are to ensure that the restoration of Wilkinson Hall adhere to the NPS HBCU grant guidelines, additional all of the quarterly and yearly reports are developed and submitted by Mr. Allen. Finally, his tenure with the National Park Service creates a professional, cordial and open relationship between SCSU and the National Park Service.

As you can see, Michael Allen’s professional and personal career has been filled with accomplishment after accomplishment. Throughout it all his kindness, compassion and empathy have led to bridge community gaps and helped community leaders understand each other in a more meaningful way.

Finally, Michael’s motto is, “to understand the present and move toward the future, you must first know and accept your past.

WEBSITE Tastee Treats SC

Meet the Creative Team

JaMeeka D. Holloway is an artist; freelance director and producer based in Durham, North Carolina, recognized as the 2023-’24 Pfaelzer Award Recipient by New York Stage and Film and as Artist In Residence at the Charleston Gaillard Center for ’23-’24. Her creative work has garnered her the 2018 Indy Arts Award and in 2019, she received a special distinction from the African American Heritage Commission and Governor Roy Cooper for her significant impact on North Carolina’s thriving arts and culture landscape. Holloway’s dedication to her craft has also been supported by grants from the Manbites Dog Theater Fund and the Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artists program.

She’s a self-producing artists, currently the creative force behind BLK GIRLS LUV THE BARD, a virtual theater platform reimagining Shakespeare’s works through the perspectives of Black and POC women and femme-identifying artists for which she received grants from the NC Arts Council and the National BOLD Women’s Theatre Circle in 2021-22.

An alumni of The Lark Play Development Center’s apprenticeship program, she has been Assistant Director at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and an associate director at Playmakers Repertory, and LaMAMA Experimental Theatre Club in New York.

She was the 2021-22 ROE GREEN Director in Residence at Kent State University, her directing credits spanning various stages, including: Northern Stage, Shakespeare in Detroit, Classic Stage, Durham Performing Arts Center, Manbites Dog, The Department of Theatre at Dartmouth, Tantrum Theatre at Ohio University, Duke Performances and Dukes’ University’s Department of Theatre Studies, the Professional Actors Program at UNC-Chapel Hill, the National Black Theatre Festival, and The National Women’s Theatre Fest. JaMeeka is a contributor in the 2018 Routledge Companion to African American Theatre and Performance. Her ability to pursue her passion wouldn’t be possible without the unwavering support and belief of her daughter, Allyson, her mother and family. To explore more about her work, check out

Teralyn earned her MFA in Acting from the University of Montana. She is an actor, a Teaching Artist, a director, a playwright, and a mom. Teralyn has traveled throughout the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia bringing theatre performances and education to students. In 2010 she developed and implemented a theatre program in Daegu, SK teaching students English while writing and performing their own play. In 2011, Teralyn founded Storytree Theatre with the mission to bring professional theatre education and performances into schools throughout Charleston, SC. She has had the privilege to develop content for the Kennedy Center’s Teaching Artist Presents series, she earned a Fellowship from the Wolf Trap Institute, and she developed original online programming for the Educational Theatre Association.

She created, an online resource for teachers who are interested in arts-integrated lessons. When she is not working as a Teaching Artist, Teralyn is performing, hanging with her kiddo, and writing and producing original plays about historical figures she finds intriguing. Her most recent play, The Only Woman in the Room, premiered in July 2022 in Damariscotta, ME. It told the story of the first female Cabinet Member, Frances Perkins, and her work on the Social Security Act of 1935. She currently lives in Damariscotta, ME where she continues to develop original programming for schools throughout the United States, write plays, and perform.

A native of Awendaw, SC, Charlton Singleton began his musical studies at the age of three on the piano. He would then go on to study the organ, violin, cello, and the trumpet throughout elementary, middle, and high school. In 1994, he received a Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance degree from South Carolina State University. Since that time, he has taught music at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, as well as being an adjunct faculty member at the College of Charleston. In 2008 he co-founded and became the Artistic Director and Conductor of the Charleston Jazz Orchestra; an 18-piece jazz ensemble of some of the finest professional musicians in the Southeast and the resident big band in Charleston, SC. Mr. Singleton is also the organist and choir director at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Charleston, SC. In November of 2016 he was named the inaugural Artist in Residence at the recently renovated Gaillard Center in downtown Charleston. He remained in this position until July 2019; at that point he was named Artist in Residence Emeritus. In this position he continues to lead the Summer Youth Jazz Orchestra Camp as well as lead the “Jazz Through the Ages” assembly, which attracts a capacity crowd of students at the Gaillard Center.

As a performer, Charlton leads his own ensembles that vary in size and style. He has performed in France, Great Britain, Scotland, Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Canada, The Netherlands, as well as many great cities throughout the United States. He is a founding member of an ensemble called Ranky Tanky. The group is a quintet that interprets the sounds of Gullah from the Southeast Coast of the United States. In 2017 Ranky Tanky reached the top of the Billboard, iTunes, and Amazon Contemporary Jazz charts with their self-titled debut recording. In 2019 they accomplished the same feat with the release of their sophomore effort, “Good Time”, which won the 2019 Grammy Award for “Best Regional Roots Album”. In 2022 the band’s live recorded set at the prestigious New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was nominated for and won the Grammy Award in the same category. In 2021 he was the recipient of the SC Governor’s Award, which honors arts organizations, patrons, artists, members of the business community, and government entities who maximize their roles as innovators, supporters, and advocates for the arts. It is the highest honor for the arts in the state of South Carolina.

In addition to performing, he is in demand as a speaker, clinician, composer, and arranger. He has also shared the stage with and/or worked with some of the most talented entertainers in the world, including Lisa Fischer, Bobby McFerrin, Ruby Dee, Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, Houston Person, Darius Rucker, Fred Wesley, and Cyrus Chestnut to name a few. Outside of music and entertainment, he, and his wife, MaryJo, are the proud parents of Shalamar and D’Marcus and new grandparents to Sophia Rose. They are also parents to their FIVE pets…Jango, MoJo, Dakota, Pumpkin, and Ginger.

Celeste Jennings is a costume designer and playwright. She’s currently an MFA candidate at NYU and is expected to graduate in spring 2023. She’s a child of southern drawl, of iced tea with just enough lemon, family reunions that last late into hot summer nights, round tables of relatives reminiscing the good ole days, and the sounds of their comforting laughter. She uses the language of her family to quilt love songs for Black people and invites them to stop and rest awhile as they refamiliarize themselves with the poetic diction of home. She loves to incorporate her unique perspective into her work and is particularly motivated to uplift and protect Black women as a writer and designer. Her dream projects evoke the past, present, and future and remind Black women that they are loved, that they’re soft, powerful, capable of resting, deserving of liberation, and that they are everything- that they always have been. Most recently, her play ‘Bov Water was produced at Northern Stage, and she developed her play, Contentious Woman, with PlayCo. Selected work includes Citrus (produced at Northern Stage), and Processing. Lately she collaborated with JAG in a designer workshop for Urinetown and worked as an assistant designer on The Notebook. She’s grateful to her community of friends, family, and mentors for encouraging and uplifting her work and is excited to graduate soon and continue to learn and grow as a human being and artist. 

Kathy A. Perkins is Professor Emerita (1989–2011) in lighting design and Africa/African Diaspora theatre. She joined the department to reinstate the MFA lighting design program, which she headed for twenty years. She developed new courses in African/African Diaspora theatre in addition to non-Western theatre courses.

In addition to productions at UIUC, Perkins has designed on Broadway and at such regional theatres as American Conservatory Theatre, Arena Stage, Berkeley Repertory, Seattle Repertory, St. Louis Black Repertory, The Alliance, Goodman, Steppenwolf, Congo Square, Manhattan Theatre Club, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, New Federal Theatre, Definition Theatre, Mark Taper, Indiana Repertory, Writers Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Two Rivers Theatre, and Playmakers Repertory Company. She is the recipient of such design awards as NAACP Image Award, National Black Theatre Festival Award, and was a nominee for the L.A. Ovation Award. Internationally, she has designed in Switzerland, Austria, and South Africa.

Perkins edited Black Female Playwrights: An Anthology of Plays before 1950, Black South African Women: An Anthology of Plays, African Women Playwrights, Alice Childress: Selected Plays and Telling Our Stories of Home: International Performance Pieces by and about Women. She coedited Contemporary Plays by Women of Color (ATHE 1996 Outstanding Theatre Book Award) and Strange Fruit: Plays on Lynching by American Women. She is a senior editor for Routledge Companion to African American Theatre and Performance.

In 1995, Perkins co-curated ONSTAGE: A Century of African American Stage Design at New York’s Lincoln Center. In 2016, she served as theatre consultant for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) inaugural exhibition Taking the Stage. She is the recipient of numerous research awards, including the Ford Foundation, Fulbright, United States Information Agency (USIA), New York Times Company, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) and various University of Illinois awards, including University Scholar. She is the recipient of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) Career Achievement Award in Academic Theatre and the USITT Distinguished Achievement Award in both Education and Lighting.

Perkins has traveled to over forty countries as both designer and lecturer. She has served as board member/advisory for USITT, URTA, Definition Theatre, and The History Makers. In 2007 she was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre. She received her BFA in Drama from Howard University and her MFA in Lighting Design from the University of Michigan. In 2021 she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan. Perkins is Professor Emerita at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2011-2018). She continues to free-lance as a designer.

Brother. Sun. Black memory cultural worker. Lover of his community. Tristan, an alum of the MFA Professional Actor Training Program at UNC-Chapel Hill, is a Southern multi-hyphenate artist whose credits include PlayMakers Repertory Company’s “Ragtime,” “Life of Galileo,” “Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Leaving Eden,” “Twelfth Night” and “The Crucible”. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s “The Amen Corner” and most recently Public Works’ “As You Like It”. Tristan is overjoyed to be premiering his solo performance work “They Do Not Know Harlem”. For where two and three are gathered. Peace and love to all.

Joseph Amodei (they/them) is a new media artist, theater designer, activist, and educator. Their work seeks to make material differences with and for people at the intersection of art, technology, and community. Joseph grew up in North Carolina, where they received a BFA in Studio Art from UNC-Chapel Hill. Joseph completed their MFA in Video and Media Design at Carnegie Mellon. Currently, they are a Professor of Immersive Media at Chatham University, and will be joining Lehigh University’s Department of Theater in the fall of 2023. Recent work has explored gameplay + gerrymandering, immersive archive creation + queer care, the HIV/AIDS crisis + performance, and Human Centered Design + issues of health equity.

This summer, their media design for the dance floor, the hospital room, and the kitchen table, (New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center, Theater Communications  Group’s National Conference, Kelly Strayhorn Theater, National Performance Network) – a show about archiving queer care across pandemics – has been selected to represent the USA in the emerging category at the Prague Quadrennial, what USITT calls, “the Olympics of performance design.”

Selected Media Design highlights: They Do Not Know Harlem(Playmakers Repertory),To Buy the Sun: The Challenge of Pauli Murray (Hidden Voices); Amm(i)gone (APAP, The Theater Offensive); Packing and Cracking: Gerrymandering through Gameplay (The PA Center for Women and Politics, UNC’s Process Series, SFX); This Emancipation Thing (RedCat); The Young Playwrights Festival (City Theater Company of Pittsburgh), My Mouth is a Queer Time Machine (Ars Nova); The Pattern at Pendarvis (HERE Arts Center); and The Clothesline Muse (National Black Theater Festival).

Born in Spartanburg, SC on December 23, 1964 to Anne Montgomery and was adopted by Pearl and Abraham Fordham of Mt. Pleasant, SC the following year. He received his Master’s Degree in history from the College of Charleston and the Citadel, and his undergraduate degrees at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. He is currently an adjunct professor of World Civilizations, United States, and African-American History at Charleston Southern University and The Citadel in Charleston, SC and has taught US History and African-American Studies at the College of Charleston. He was a weekly columnist for the Charleston Coastal Times from 1994 to 1998, as well as the author of The 1895 Segregation Fight in South Carolina (Charleston: History Press, 2022), Mr. Potts and Me (Charleston: Evening Post Books, 2012) Voices of Black South Carolina-Legend and Legacy (Charleston: History Press, 2009), True Stories of Black South Carolina (Charleston: History Press, 2008) and coauthor of Born to Serve-The Story of the WBEMC in South Carolina in 2006.

Research and articles by Mr. Fordham appear in the books Sweetgrass Baskets and the Gullah Tradition by Joyce Coakley, South of Main by Beatrice Hill and Brenda Lee, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African- American Folklore for the University of Missouri Press, Cecil Williams and Sonny DuBose’s Orangeburg 1968, and The Malcolm X Encyclopedia for the University of Southern Mississippi Press in 2001. He has also commented on history and storytelling for numerous radio and television programs in the United States, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom. He was on a ten-day tour of Senegal and Gambia, West Africa, with fellow educators where he spoke to students at the University of The Gambia in May 2022. He has also appeared on the NBC LX News and CBS Sunday Morning in 2022.

He conducts a walking tour called “The Lost Stories of Black Charleston”, and has received a citation from the South Carolina House of Representatives for his work in education, historical research, and social justice. He was also on an educational fact-finding visit to Senegal and Gambia, West Africa, where he toured the Slave Port at Gorre Island and spoke to a class of students at the University of Gambia in Banjul.

His motto is Educate yourself to lead yourself, for if you wait on others to show you the way, you will wait for a long time.

MeJah Balams is a multi-disciplined visual artist residing in Atlanta, Ga. She received a BFA in Theatre Design and Technology from Auburn University and extended her studies at the reputable Cobalt Studios, for scenic art. Her work has been credited as scenic, lighting, and props designer. She has also had the privilege of touring as art department lead for theatre production. Her most notable collaboration was a lighting designer for Prague Quadrennial 2019’s main creative centerpiece “Blue Hour”, a large scale multifaceted and immersive installation. She most recently designed for the Summit Performance Indianapolis production of Skeleton Crew.

Jacqueline E. Lawton is a playwright, dramaturg, producer, racial equity facilitator, and advocate for Access, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the American Theatre. Her approach to facilitation is anti-racist, anti-bigoted, and intersectional. Her work examines the ways that racism, bigotry, misogyny, and ableism impact policy, practices, and pedagogy. She is centered on the individual, whether you work at a theatre, university, or nonprofi t organization. Because each of us has an individual and collective responsibility to ourselves and each other, we must be accountable for our actions and inactions. Recent clients have included Actors Theatre of Louisville, Boston Playwrights Theatre, City of Raleigh, the Dramatists Guild, Education Theatre Association, eHarmony, the English National Opera, Flat Rock Playhouse, HERE Arts Center, James Madison University’s School of Theatre and Dance, Local 802 – American Federation of Musicians, Maestra Music, Montclair State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance, New Jersey Institute of Technology/Rutgers University, PACE School of Performing Arts, PACE Actor Studio Drama Program, PCPA Pacifi c Conservatory Theatre, PlayMakers Theatre Company, Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, ScriptWorks, Shea’s Performing Arts Center, Shenandoah Conservatory, Theatre Communication Group, the University of Southern California’s School of Dramatic Arts, University of Kentucky’s College of Design, University of Memphis’s Department of Theatre and Dance, University of Virginia’s Department of Drama, and Vagabond Theatre. Currently, she is an Associate Professor in the Department of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a dramaturg for PlayMakers Repertory Company. She is a proud member of the Dramatist Guild of America.

Caroline Randall Williams is a multi-genre writer, educator, performance artist in Nashville Tennessee, where she is a Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University. Host of the Viola Davis produced series Hungry For Answers, she is also co-author of the NAACP Image Award-winning cookbook Soul Food Love. Her debut poetry collection, Lucy Negro, Redux was published by Third Man Books, and turned into a ballet by Nashville Ballet, with an original score by Grammy award winner Rhiannon Giddens. She performs her poetry as a member of the cast. The production made its television debut last year as part of PBS’s Great Performances series. Named by Southern Living as “One of the 50 People changing the South,” and ranked by The Root as one of the 100 most influential African Americans of 2020,the Cave Canem fellow has been published and featured in multiple journals, essay collections and news outlets, including The Atlantic, The Iowa Review, The Massachusetts Review, CherryBombe, Garden and Gun, Essence, and the New York Times.

“Some said Carla, how you get so fly. I said from not being afraid to fall out the sky.”

Fly Girl. Costume Designer. Wardrobe Stylist.

Carla “Fly Carla” Thomas is a costume designer, wardrobe stylist and style contributor. She is a creative and motivated Local USA 829-IATSE union wardrobe professional who loves all things fashion. She can do it all! She’s the one designing and styling your favorite commercials, tv shows and movies! Hailing from Baltimore, cultivated at Howard University and now thriving in Brooklyn, Carla is always on a plane or in a showroom. Find her talking fashion and inspiring as Fly Carla on Instagram. 

Dr. Jessica Berry is an educator, advocate, and researcher who is passionate about sharing the living Gullah Geechee history, culture, and language with the world. She is a native of Huger, South Carolina. She completed her B.A. and M.A. in speech language pathology & audiology from Winthrop University and South Carolina State University, respectively. She completed her doctoral studies at Louisiana State University in communication disorders with a minor in linguistics.

She has worked as an assistant professor of speech language pathology at Columbia College and South Carolina State University. She also served two years as acting department chair, graduate coordinator at South Carolina State University. She currently serves as academic program manager at the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education.

Dr. Berry is a fluent Gullah/Geechee speaker who has worked as a translator/transcriber with the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture project (2014). She is the creator of the first series of Gullah/Geechee, cultural competency focused professional development sessions for teachers in Charleston County School District (2017-present). She was recently awarded the American Speech Language Hearing Associations Editor’s award for her work which examined the use of strategic scoring and probes as alternative assessment methods for children who speak African American English.

She is the author of, The Little Gullah Geechee Book: A Guide for the Come Ya. She wrote this book with hopes to reach tourists, transplants to the low-country region, and anyone who is interested in learning more about the Gullah Geechee language and culture.

Dr. Berry is an advocate for creating spaces where children who do not speak Mainstream English are provided the same opportunities and additional assistance that they need to be successful. As a part of this goal, her research focuses language impairment in the context of regional dialect variation, non-biased assessment of children who speak nonmainstream varieties of English, and Gullah Geechee linguistic structure and sociolinguistic complexities.

She enjoys learning and growing and plans to use all that she has learned through her years as an educator/clinician to mentor the next generation of scholars and educate the public about the Gullah Geechee language. She is a wife, mother of two girls and enjoys singing and reading in her spare time.

Becca’s theatrical roots sprang from the world of dance but changed direction forever with her audition for The Music Man as Amaryllis at age 10. After graduation from the Theatre Arts program at Virginia Tech, Becca began her journeys around the world at The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Then followed several years of travel as the Stage Manager for numerous successful children’s tours, including Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Blue’s Clues, and Dora the Explorer, Live! as well as A Chorus Line and tour manager of Vocalosity. Becca is a 18 season veteran of Charleston’s renowned Spoleto Festival, USA, working with acclaimed international artists. Highlights include Lakmé, Ariadne auf NaxosPorgy & Bess, and Veremonda. Up next is a return to the headset with Holy City Arts and Lyric Opera’s Rigoletto this fall, after stage managing their beloved Into The Woods last year. Special thanks to Greg, Basher, and our two pups for their unending support and snuggles.

Preston Dunnavant is a live sound audio engineer and music producer from Lexington, South Carolina. He has held the role of festival audio engineer at Spoleto Festival USA for the past three years, and spends the “off season” collaborating with an array of musicians, artists, and local Charleston venues. An alumni of Clemson University, Preston is excited to make his debut in sound design with Finding Freedom: The Journey of Robert Smalls, and the Charleston Gaillard Center.

Meet the Cast

Aydan Gadsden, who plays the role of young Robert, is extremely proud to be joining the cast in his first role. Aydan was born in North Charleston, SC, where he now lives with his family. His favorite subjects are English and Algebra. Aydan is best known for his love of singing, gaming and playing basketball. Aydan would like to thank his mom, grandparents, family and friends for their love and support. He also thanks director JaMeeka D. Holloway for the opportunity to pursue his dreams.

Joshua Suiter is a 23 year old artist from Durham,NC who now resides in Atlanta, GA. He earned his B.F.A in Professional Theatre (Acting) from the illustrious North Carolina A&T State University. He is a well rounded performer with roles such as Tinman (The Wiz), Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and Lead Vocalist/Ensemble (Ain’t Misbehavin) under his belt. He is beginning his film career and has already starred in Bigger Than Me, a short film produced by Beats by Dre as Malik Johnson, football sensation. Fun fact: Joshua was a 2021 Trophy Presenter at the 94th Academy Awards. Joshua’s favorite bible verse is Jeremiah 29:11. God Bless and enjoy the show!

Keith Alston is a Charleston Native who made his stage debut playing Boy Willie in The Piano Lessons for the Flowertown theatre Company. He has since enjoyed working with many of the theatre company’s in Charleston. Some of his favorite productions are One Monkey Don’t stop no show, Raisin in the Sun, Driving Miss Daisy, 5 guys named Mo’, The Paul Lawerence Dunbar Story, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. More recently he has performed in Clyde’s and Septima both for Pure Theatre. He is excited to be a part of this wonderful cast and crew.

Michele Powe is a well-known stage and film actress in the Charleston, SC and surrounding areas. She has appeared in over 25 plays locally and regionally as well as TV/Film roles. These productions include, Septima, The Amen Corner, Intimate Apparel, The Exonerated, For Colored Girls who have considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf. Her most challenging role was breathing life into the complex woman, Ma Rainey, in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. In TV/Film, Michele can be seen in various commercials, episodes of Mr. Mercedes, The Inspectors, Paws P.I, Shots Fired and Reckless.

Michele contributes her love of the Arts to her parents and watching Cicely Tyson in the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. She knew at an early age that she wanted to be an actress. Her love of music comes from her parents filling the house with the blues, rock n roll and R&B at their house parties or whenever the mood hit them.

Michele is excited to be a part of this amazing cast and crew. She gives thanks to her Creator, family and friends who rearrange schedules to make her performances. She thanks her late parents, James and Ruby Powe for always being supportive of her creativity. Michele sends a special thank you to her sister, Lucette Powe, who always moved mountains to make the many opening nights. Michele’s motto is: “All things can be achieved when you put your faith in action. Believe in yourself!”

Zania Cummings is extremely proud to be a part of this production right here in her beloved city of Charleston! She received her classical training at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City becoming a member of The Academy Company upon graduating. While studying in New York she rediscovered her love of poetry and has been performing as a spoken word artist in NYC, Charleston and worldwide ever since, currently working on her first book. Zania believes moving in her purpose means serving her community by giving a voice to the untold stories of her ancestors, as well as creating safe spaces for bodies of color, ESPECIALLY here in Charleston. She recently co-curated “3000 Black + Beyond” Charleston’s very first afro-futurist art exhibition series, one of many projects Zania is bringing to the city. A poet, yoga teacher and art curator, Zania loves finding the intersectionality and balance in multiple mediums of Art. Theater, however, will forever and always be her ultimate Love.

John Smalls is a stage and screen actor and singer who has appeared in over twenty plays and musicals in Charleston and the surrounding area; films When All Hell Breaks Loose, Letters to Rolanda and The Notebook; television Army Wives, and Porgy and Bess documentary on PBS. John also sings full time with Ann Caldwell and the Magnolia Singers, an acapella group that performs spirituals, Gullah poetry, and stories indigenous to the Lowcountry all year long.

Shanna Hastie is a native of Sumter, SC and extremely proud to be a cast member with other phenomenal actors and fellow artists in the production of Finding Freedom, The Journey of Robert Smalls. While Shanna has spent over 20 years in the Social Work profession building partnerships with organizations to support the needs of vulnerable populations and facilitate health equity initiatives across the continuum of care on both local and national levels, her true passion is being on stage! She believes there is so much power in being able to tell stories that are engaging and empowering to both the artist and the audience. Shanna believes that true artistry can be a catalyst for change. Her passion has led her to develop stage performances that bridge the gap between discussing challenging topics, such as HIV/AIDS and theatre, to tell the stories of vulnerable populations in a safe space.

Shanna Hastie now resides in the Charleston, SC area. She desires to be a resounding voice that advocates for more theater, film and tv productions to develop projects in the Lowcountry and surrounding areas.

She would like to thank all the family and friends who have supported her on her endeavors of following her dreams of theater. Shanna would like to send a special thank you to her late father Woodrow Hastie Jr., her first cheerleader! He always said she could do anything she set her mind to. Shanna motto is: It’s never too late to follow your dreams.

Ronnie Walker is excited to be making his debut in Finding Freedom: The Journey of Robert Smalls. Ronnie, a graduate with a BFA in Acting from Columbus State University and from Atlanta, Georgia, is an actor, dancer, singer and artist who relocated to Charleston in order to pursue his dreams! When Ronnie is not on stage, you can find him performing in Charleston as the Drag Entertainer Nova Cane O’Bishop! Ronnie’s other credits include Once on this Island (Ensemble) and Kinky Boots (Angel) with Charleston Stage! R+J Theory (Nurse), Lucky Stiff (Emcee), 1984 (Parsons), Evil Dead (Moose), Legally Blonde (Carlos), Cinderella (Ensemble) and Spamalot (Ensemble). Ronnie is grateful for his friends and family for their love and support and would like to thank all those involved in Finding Freedom for making this the most rewarding experience of his life. To stay in touch, you can find Ronnie on Instagram @ronw2_/@novacaneobishop. Enjoy the show!

Sadia Matthews has performed onstage this year in Ship with The Void Theatre Company and Antigone for The Gibbes Museum. 2023 has been a year of expansion and growth and they are so very grateful with the opportunity to work with the Gaillard team and this cast. Marrying their love of theatre and Black culture is a dream come true and you can catch her next in Cadillac Crew with The Footlight Players.

R.W. Smith has performed onstage in Hangmen, Ben Butler, True West, Death of a Salesman, Sweat, American Buffalo, The Pillowman, Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train and much more. He has also appeared on film and screen in Army Wives, Vampire Resurrection, Cold Soldiers and NY International Film Festival award-winning Silent Scream.

Support for this program is made possible by

Mr. Jeffrey M. Weingarten
Jonathan Green
Roger & Teresa Jones
Deborah Kennedy Kennard & William E. Kennard
Nella Gray Barkley
Celeste & Charles Patrick
Mrs. Martha R Ingram, Martha Rivers Ingram Advised Fund of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee

The Chalmers Fund – Lee Bell and Fotios Pantazis
Brenda Lauderback & Dr. Boyd Wright
Beacon Theatrical Services Inc.
Dr. Daniel J. Smith & Dr. James F. Mellichamp
Dr. Renée Dobbins Anderson
Joyce Green
Cathy Marino
J. Scott Bauer & Anne Bavier
Jennifer Chestnut Comer