AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – The Augusta Mini Theatre gears up for its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday theatre production, and this year’s presentation is entitled “The Man, The Message, The Music,” which focuses on the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Brown.
WJBF News Channel 6 Digital sits down with the founder of the first arts school in Augusta to offer all of the performing arts disciplines under one roof, Mr. Tyrone Butler, and two of his students, Symphnie Tubman and Monae Burns.
Mr. Butler, can you give us the brief history of how the Augusta Mini Theatre began?
On October 8th, 1975 over at the Wallace Branch Library (on Laney Walker Boulevard), I talked to the late Mrs. Gwendolyn Cummings, and I said, “Let’s do some shows over here.” And she asked, “What kind of shows?” And I said, “You know like Johnny Carson, but I’ll come out singing instead of telling jokes.” And she said, “Okay, write it up.” Then, we got together and had the first show on October 8th, 1975. It was like a talent show. We’re 47 years later. At that time, we became the first arts school in Augusta to have all the disciplines under one roof. We had a lot of great arts programs around town. But if you wanted to take ballet, you had to go to Augusta Ballet; if you wanted to go to theater, you had to go to Augusta Players. But what we did, we put it all under one roof. Here we are today offering theater, dance, music, and visual arts.
And we want to reiterate that the Augusta Mini Theatre is the first arts school in Augusta to offer all of the performing arts disciplines under one roof.
Now, I didn’t know that then, and I called Dr. Jimmy Carter, and I asked, “What was here before we started?” And he said, “You’re it.” And I said, “Really?” So, we were the first.
Now, you have a new production coming up called “The Man, The Message, The Music.” Can you tell us what this production is about?
Symphnie: I play the role of Johnetha, and I’m basically a friend of James Brown. And we gather at the Third World nightclub to remember him.
Monae: And I’m also a friend and supporter of James Brown. Johnetha, another character named Flash, and I go to the Third World nightclub to talk about him and remember him.
Mr. Butler, what is the importance of this production?
You heard one name there, and there’s a guy named Flash, which is named after Flash Gordon. Flash and I were very good friends, and I’m paying tribute to his name by having his name in the play. Also, Flash Gordon was a very close friend of James Brown anyway. The main thing is to pay tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s our Martin Luther King, Jr. show. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for everybody to be treated equally and fairly and to be given a fair shot. And James Brown was the same. He said, “I don’t want anybody to give me nothing. Open up the door, and I’ll get it myself.” The teaching is in that; the same as Martin Luther King, Jr. We even say in this play that James Brown should’ve gotten the Nobel Peace Prize, and we talk about why because of the life he had coming up in Augusta and South Carolina from shining shoes to collecting coal from the railroad tracks just to raise enough money to pay $7 a month for the rent for the shack they had as a kid. That was rough. Can you imagine at 7 years old having to go out there even today with it raining to shine shoes?
Symphine and Monae, we’ve had Augusta Mini Theatre alumni on WJBF Digital. How important is the Augusta Mini Theatre to you and how has it helped you in your development as artists?
Monae: I think it’s really important because Mr. and Mrs. Butler don’t just teach you how to become an actor, but they also teach you life lessons. They also teach you things that we use everyday like workforce skills and those other things that aren’t taught in schools, we learn at the Mini Theatre. Sometimes, we do take those things for granted, but when I do sit back and look at it, it is very important and has contributed a lot to me growing up for my next step in life. I’m a senior so I’m going to college next year, and everything I’ve learned is going to help a lot.
Symphine: I agree.
So, why should people come and see “The Man, The Message, The Music?”
Monae: I think they should come see it because we’re paying tribute to James Brown, which I know before this show, I really didn’t know a lot about him. And just learning about him, I‘ve learned so much about life. So, I think they should come see it because of that. And it’s also very entertaining. It’s a good outing event for the family.
Symphine: Right, and we about to put on a show!
Mr. Butler: And when she says show, the first part of the play is the history of his life and what he went through. The next part is that the cast will be dancing as James Brown. They’re all James Browns. They’re five characters. And we have the originals outfits that we received from James Brown’s entourage. They are really going to be dancing. In rehearsal, they’re like dead. (Laughs) And I push them hard like James Brown would’ve. And I told Symphine the other day, “James Brown the other day because you’re slacking.” But anyway, it’s a lot of fun! (Laughs)
If people want to see “The Man, The Message, The Music,” how can they do so?
You can go get tickets at augustaminitheatre.org to get tickets online. You can come by the Mini Theatre as well at 2548 Deans Bridge Road in Augusta. Of course, the telephone is still working at (706) 722-0598. So, you can go online and buy them or come to the Mini Theatre.
And I’d like to share this too. The last part of the show is going to be… you ever heard of The T.A.M.I. Show? The show had all of those from 1964? Well, we have that tape, and as the last part of the play, we’re going to show that to the audience. They’re going to see James Brown in 1964. I mean, if you didn’t see him in 1964, you didn’t see him. He is awesome. The producer on the show sent out the word that they would like for him to be on the show. James Brown said, “Okay.” The producer said, “First of all, Mr. Brown, we need you to come and show us what you’re going to do so we set the lighting and microphones.” And James Brown said according to that information, “No. When I come there to perform, then, you’ll see what I’m going to do.” Then, the man said after James Brown performed, he was so glad that he did not see James Brown rehearse because that performance was once in a lifetime. In 1964, you have to see it. This man is awesome. He’s dancing all over the place. The T.A.M.I. Show will be the third part of the play.
If you want to see “The Man, The Message, The Music,” this theatrical presentation will take place at the Augusta Mini Theatre on January 13th at 8 P.M. and January 14th-16th and 21st and 22nd at 3 PM.