The reviews are in: Jubilee is being praised for honoring and preserving the impact of the Negro Spiritual upon the American Songbook. In the Arena Stage production, Director Tazewell Thompson gives us a rare glimpse into the story of legendary a cappella singing ensemble, the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
(See my colleague Michelle Simms-Burton’s full review of Jubilee.)
Jubilee’s run ends on June 9th, but Sean-Maurice Lynch, who portrays Frederick J. Loudin one of the group’s founders, took time out of an intense performance schedule to share his thoughts on the significance of Jubilee for today’s audiences, and the jubilation he felt being part of this inspiring production.
Ramona Harper: Can you tell us something about your career as an actor in Washington, DC? How did you get started in theater here?
Sean-Maurice Lynch: I’ve been working as a professional actor in the Washington, DC area for ten years now. I got my start at Signature Theatre during their 20th Anniversary season in Show Boat directed by Eric Schafer. I eventually ended up being cast in Sweeney Todd and understudying that season. After working at Signature for about four years, I started to perform in other local theaters like Studio Theater, Adventure Theater, Ford’s Theatre, Washington National Opera, Everyman Theater, and now Arena Stage.
Why did you want to play the role of Frederick Loudin, one of the founders of the Fisk Jubilee Singers?
When I initially auditioned, I did not know what role I would be considered for. All I knew was that I had to be in this production. I learned about the Fisk Jubilee Singers while attending Penn State University in an African American History class. I was so enamored with their story of success, that I went to the library and found several books to read about them.
At that time, I thought that the Fisk Jubilee Singers would make a great play one day. That was in 2006. Here we are in 2019, and Playwright and Director Tazewell Thompson beat me to the punch! But I couldn’t be more grateful that he did create this play about these amazing artists, and that I do get to play the role of Frederick J. Loudin who was a teacher, singer, choir director, impresario, inventor, entrepreneur, and manufacturer. Much like me, he was a renaissance man.
How did working under the direction of Tazewell Thompson expand your range as an actor?
This a capella musical is my third show working with Tazewell. My previous shows were Ruined at Everyman Theatre (a play), and Lost in the Stars at Washington National Opera (an opera). Each experience challenged and enlightened me in different ways. I can confidently say that I am a more well-rounded actor because of the opportunities I’ve gotten to work with Tazewell.
What did you draw upon to develop the characterization of the role you play as Frederick Loudin in Jubilee?
Tazewell did an amazing job in selecting actors who really embody these real-life characters. Frederick J. Loudin was never a student at Fisk University. He had an interest and sought out an opportunity to join the group. He then went on to create his own successful Jubilee troupe, becoming stockholder of his own business, and patenting several inventions (he’s noted as the inventor of the key chain). I myself have been proactive to create my own artistic opportunities and am known to do many things beyond performing. That connection helps me to portray Frederick J Loudin.
You are the Training Program Manager at Arena Stage, but this is your debut as an actor at Arena. What’s it like to perform there?
My first professional audition in DC was at Arena Stage for their 2008/2009 season, so this debut has been 10 years in the making! It’s been quite the achievement to perform in the same theater where I saw my first Arena show, Women of Brewster Place in 2007 and where I subbed as a dresser for Maurice Hines’ Tappin’ Thru Life in 2014 when I was an Arena Stage Allen Lee Hughes Senior Fellow in the Community Engagement Department.
It is easy to comprehend the historical importance of a play that highlights the contributions of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, but what is the significance of this piece in today’s world?
African Americans in entertainment are often characterized as stereotypes. Jubilee is a play that enlightens and educates, and introduces audiences to African Americans who were educated, eloquent, and achieved greatness despite the challenges faced.
What is the significance of your character in the play for audiences today?
Frederick J. Loudin was an African American man who was born free and made his own opportunities. He is a prime example of what will happen when given the proper resources and opportunities to succeed in this country.
What do you want audiences to come away with after seeing this show?
I’d like for audiences to leave with an understanding of the Jubilee Singers and a curiosity to learn more about their accomplishments not only for their school, but the society as a whole. This group, through music, pushed against the systemic racism of their day changing the mindset of white men and women who believed that African Americans were inferior, unworthy, and unable to be productive members of society.
Is there anything else you would like to share about Jubilee?
Yes, Jubilee is a rare display of black excellence. If you want to see a show that highlights the accomplishments of African-Americans post- Civil War with the power of over 40 Negro spirituals, then come to Arena Stage by June 9th and purchase a ticket. Your mind will be enlightened and your soul will be fulfilled. You might even shout in praise!