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January 29, 2016

Production of James Baldwin’s “The Amen Corner” a Smash Hit

David Shakes ’85, who directed and performed in James’s Baldwin’s play “The Amen Corner,” at the Multi Use Community Cultural Center, Rochester. Photo/Annette Dragon
David Shakes ’85, who directed and performed in James’s Baldwin’s play “The Amen Corner,” at the Multi Use Community Cultural Center, Rochester. Photo/Annette Dragon

SUNY Empire State College’s Alumni Student Association, Rochester area, partnered with David Shakes ’85 and the North Star Players on a stage production of the "The Amen Corner," by James Baldwin. Baldwin’s three-act play explores themes of religion and poverty in the African-American community.

The performances were staged last week at the Multi Use Community Cultural Center, Rochester.

Of the five-night run, four shows were sellouts, one was oversold – additional chairs had to be brought in to accommodate the overflow audience – and standing ovations greeted the actors at the conclusion of every performance.

Timothy Cosgriff, a 1993 alumnus, assistant to the dean of the college’s Genesee Valley locations and a visual artist, and Shakes are artists-in-residence at the MuCCC Center for 2016-2017.

Among many other roles, Shakes acted in and directed the performances. 

Rebecca Rafferty, in reviewing the play for CITY Newspaper, said, “Between moving monologues, well-navigated layers of moral ambiguity and singing that will give you goose bumps, this production is community theater at its finest.”

Students and alumni were involved with all aspects of this production, including marketing, ushering and event management, which Cosgriff called, "a complete learning and networking experience."

During the run of the production, SUNY Empire students set up a pop-up community book exchange in the lobby to distribute free books to attendees. Many of the books were written by African-American authors or on related themes. Books on faith, religion and spiritualty, as well as a range of LGBTQ-authored or related-themes books, were available. Information about the college was included in each book. All books were donated by a large network of community partners.

This is the second year the college has partnered with Shakes and the North Star  players. Cosgriff also said that plans for next year already are underway.

Throughout the time of the production, Cosgriff had a solo show of his artwork in the MuCCC gallery. The title of the show is "R! B&W: Read! Books & Words, An exhibition of photographic works and found object creations exploring Classic Literature & Poetry." The exhibit runs through Jan. 30.

Cosgriff says, "This show highlights the joy of reading classic literature and poetry. The images on display were taken using a variety of cameras. The exhibition title, ‘R! B&W,’ also refers to the film used to make the images. Redscale Film and black and white film were used for this exhibition. 'The Moon is Distant from the Sea' is the only digital image in the show."

Community co-sponsors for “The Amen Corner” included Image out Film Festival, the second largest LGBTQ Film Festival in New York state; Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, Friends & Foundation of the Rochester Public Library and Writers and Books; The Rochester Victory Alliance, University of Rochester, Center for Aids Research, University of Rochester Medical Center, featuring a discussion with Robert L. Miller Jr., a faculty member at the University at Albany who has done work on faith and gay issues; The Neighborhood of the Arts Business Association; Gay Alliance of Rochester; Karen Troiano, financial agent with New York Life; Rochester Broadway Theater League; Kimie Romeo ’06, Empire Realty; and CITY Newspaper.

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