“Bees” a part of Black History Month

On Feb. 20, at 8:00 p.m., American Place Theater, a New York City-based theater company, is returning to JSC to perform “The Secret Life of Bees.” a novel published in 2002. This one-woman show is part of APT’s award-winning Literature to Life program, which presents professionally staged verbatim adaptations of significant American literary works.

Their productions include both a pre- and post-performance discussion. According to Coordinator of First-Year Events Emily Nielsen, there were a few reasons for this choice of show. “We got overwhelmingly positive feedback from ‘Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl’ [last year’s APL show],” she said.

According to Nielsen, the Office of First-Year Experience also wanted to intentionally program for Black History Month and to further campus and community conversations on race. Another factor was because the story addresses an important part of history: the Civil Rights Act and the racial and political unrest of the 1960s. “The Secret Life of Bees” is also a compelling coming of age story, and the acting in the production they brought in last year was so strong.

American Place Theatre, founded in the 1963 by Wynn Handman, Sidney Lanier, and Michael Tolan, has been a starting point for many well-known actors and playwrights. These include Ellen Barkin, Michael Douglas, Faye Dunaway, Morgan Freeman, Richard Gere, Dustin Hoffman, Frank Langella, and Sigourney Weaver.

In 1992 they premiered their Literature to Life program. With this program, APT provides students with a different way to access important material. Each one-hour performance includes the question and answer sessions and they can also provide additional teaching material. They also do in-school Literature to Life residencies.

Additional programming includes plays based on oral histories. “The Secret Life of Bees,” a New York Times bestseller, was adapted for their stage in 2005 and covers a young girl’s search for the truth about her mother during the civil rights era.

“The Secret Life of Bees” is a first-person narrative, written from the viewpoint of 14-year-old Lily, who is retelling past events from her perspective. She is the daughter of an emotionally-distant, abusive peach farmer in rural South Carolina in 1964. Her mother died when she was a small child, and her father has blamed her for her mother’s death for years. Young Lily’s only friend, her black maid Rosaleen gets arrested for confronting three bigots, and Lily breaks her out of jail, and they run away towards a place that has a connection to Lily’s mother.

The resulting actions follow a path painted beautifully in Kidd’s novel. The themes of racism, female community, first love, and the complexity of life are explored throughout this story. This tale is woven throughout with the motif of the bees and the metaphor and imagery of the beehive. “Most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we don’t know anything about,” says August, one of the mother figures in this novel.

“I hope that classes which cover this history, the topic of race, and folks who are connected to the theater department will be in attendance,” said Nielsen.  “If anyone wants to know more about the production, the actors, or the story, they should feel free to email me: emily.neilsen@jsc.edu. “