Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press
With the economy in a slump, playwright and Auburn Hills resident Anetria Cole wanted to look back to the Great Depression, and study how people lived during that time.
Her upcoming play, “Bronzeville Gold” shows how a community of African-Americans survived the 1930s by running illegal numbers in the neighborhood.
“Back then, African-Americans couldn’t get loans to start businesses and it was really hard for them to get jobs,” Cole said. “In Bronzeville, they would go to these policy kings and number men, instead of going to the bank where they weren’t able to get these things. It’s really an endearing story.”
FYI: Auditions for a reading of “Bronzeville Gold” take place noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, at the Auburn Hills Community Center, 1827 N. Squirrel Road. Auditions are by appointment; email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets for the reading, which will be Oct. 10, at 1515 Broadway in Detroit, will be available the day of the event. They are $10, or pay what you can. The play will be performed in full at Varner Recital Hall at Oakland University, June 6-8.
The story follows Willie, who moves his family to Chicago’s south side from Mississippi in search of the American dream. There he finds Bronzeville Gold, the gambling numbers wheel, as Willie tries to seek fame and fortune, learning about life in the process.
“I would love for them to take from the play that family is very important, and for all of us to value our goals in life to see if pursuing material things is worth losing the ones closest to you,” Cole said. “Greed leads to separation of family.”
Cole, a Pontiac native, got her start in theater at Kennedy Junior High School, when she auditioned for and received a lead role in “Purlie Victorious.” Following high school, she went on to pursue theater at Oakland University, receiving a Matilda Award for her works.
“I really love the personal contact— theater is so personal,” Cole said. “In watching a live performance, it’s as if you were right there with the actors, and it draws you into the story because there are actually live bodies there. Whereas with film and movies, which I still love, it’s not as personal as seeing a live body make words from a page come to life.”
While studying in Varner Hall, Cole said her favorite courses were in playwriting. Her professor, Kitty Dubin, gave her an outlet to further increase her skills.
“Bronzeville Gold” was born while she was studying with Dubin. She
found she had a gift and rare talent for playwriting.
“I thought this play was extremely special and powerful, and should be widely produced,” Dubin said. “Anetria is a very soulful person and she brings that to her writing so she creates characters that are real-life human beings, and you really come to care about what happens to them. There’s also a historical significance to this play that brings an added dimension to it.”
Pontiac needed a community theater, Cole said, so she formed Eyeful Productions in 2003, later renaming it Humblefolk Productions, to put on plays in the area involving talented residents.
Going back to her roots, Cole cast members of the Pontiac School district, her alma mater. Teachers Clifford Sykes, James Nelson and Alita Mayfield have roles in a planned reading of “Bronzville.”
Sykes, who was involved her previous play, “Family Secret,” said Cole has a lot of talent, and working with her is a great experience. Not only would she direct, but Cole allowed the cast to comment on the writing, and she asked for their constructive criticism.
Cole’s works have received awards in contests, and “Bronzeville Gold” has earned national recognition, through an honorable mention in The Kennedy Center College Theatre Festival, and a reading at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“Anetria is a phenomenal writer, great director — full of spirit and very kind,” Sykes said. “As a music teacher and professional performing musician, I’ve been around a lot, and I can say without hesitation that Anetria is a star among us, and we need to pay attention to her.”