The New Town/Free Town Project is an anthropological investigation into the African-American settlements or enclaves in the historic Afton Greenwood area. Combining research in the fields of Cultural anthropology and Ethnomusicology, the piece will investigate the origins of New Town and its rise and apparent fall. We will research and develop a theater piece that will showcase the history of a lost community and bring to light the diversity that was once in Crozet. Working with playwright and director
Royal Shiree, composer, playwright Tanya Manwill, and director, playwright Boomie Pedersen, we will give voice to the once vibrant community of New Town and restore its historical context in the
development of the Crozet area. The goal would be to produce the script developed with this grant during the fall when tourism is at its peak as an annual event to commemorate the lives of the African-American
community and their contribution to the Crozet area.
Our research will be comprised of oral interviews where possible with descendants of the original residents; we will need to find those people through court records, census papers, historical records and
may need to travel to do so. We will conduct on site interviews where possible, and would like to have a video recording possibility as well as audio. Once we have the material, we will begin to shape it into a
script; we will do workshops with actors in the Hamner Studio at Crozet Arts and where it seems necessary and helpful, we will open these workshops to an invited public for feedback.
The following statements are from the creative team of The Newtown Project, all of whom have been working on this project for the better part of a year.
from Royal Shiree:
What is extraordinary about this project: we are not individually learning something historically significant, but an entire group of artists learning about an unknown community that was decimated by the explosion of a nearby plant. We, as a more-informed collective, are in the awesome position to theatrically and provocatively educate an entire community ignorant of its past. This is the goal of the Hamner Theater’s Newtown Project.
from Tyra Robinson:
As stressful as a transition can be, I hope for its positive results. Yet, when looking back at a community that has transitioned into oblivion, optimism fades. The more I research Newtown, the more burdened I
become with questions. Is this possibly a metaphor for us all?
from Abena Foreman-Trice:
As a former journalist who covered Albemarle County in the late 90s, I was surprised and dismayed that I had not heard of the events that would ultimately displace an African-American enclave in the Crozet/Greenwood area until recently. But timing is everything.
Today, as the Charlottesville area continues to grapple with wounds opened by the events of August 12, 2017, it’s appropriate that we use moments of remembrance to explore and portray the impact of the Greenwood explosion on the past and present.
I believe the use of theatre as the medium for this exploration will deliver a powerful, thought-provoking experience to community audiences.
from Tanya Manwill:
I continue to grapple with a “way in” to this story. On the surface, it is a straight line; a plot with omissions; a chronologically, but “whose” story is it?
In the tradition of family history, my reference point being that of my own family history, steeped in pioneer fireside reminiscence of the Utah collective experience. In applying a genealogical template, much can be broadly surmised: The story is about people and their ties to the land. It is everyman’s tale, hidden from plain sight, but dormant, deep in the soil now layered with the toil of those who have gone before. The soil of NewTown, now sealed with a layer of capitalistic chemical waste, still teems with life
around the edges. Weeds, trees push out from the ground. The lot around the local church is flattened by foot traffic and the weight of cars coming and going. People live, work, love, worship, and remember. The NewTown story calls out from the unseen place between what was and what is, and the truth that lies somewhere in this space.
To tell a story for those who had no voice, no choice, now lost to time, can be a daunting endeavor. Is the “way in” musical, lyrical; Is it purely a matter of research? Is it an exercise in immersion or voyeurism?
Does a storyteller have to be invited, or does poetic license support imposition?
I think that NewTown, as a story, cries out. I hear the voices much clearer now. From the onset of this project they have whispered, soft like the wind that washes over the sub-developed, polished veneer of this
corner of Albemarle County. The same wind that blows through the fragmented hamlet of NewTown, cut apart by state funded roadways, and gutted by the tortured ground that would probably ignite if a single
match were thrown in the direction of the now defunct chemical plant. This same wind carries stories interwoven and inseparable from what may be been and what yet may be…
The voices seem to say: “Tell this story. Tell the NewTown story.”
from John Lawson:
My family has owned property in Greenfield, less than twenty miles of Newtown, for over seventy years, but I had never heard of that community or its tribulations until the Hamner Theater initiated this project. Research-based, community-focused artistry is a powerful tool for building mutual awareness and support across lines of race, economic status, and locality.
Questions? Call 434-960-5936 or email Boomie@thehamnertheater.com