Sixth-grade students at witnessed history come alive with famous St. Louis storyteller Bobby Norfolk on Tuesday, Feb. 22. Norfolk brought his own blend of excitement, humor and energy to educate students on lesser known but important African Americans in honor of Black History Month.
Stacey McMackin, the school’s Library Media Specialist, oversees and handles everything that goes in to these live acts. For her, it’s about more than just the content of the show, but helping students experience live theatre for themselves.
“I just want more live performances, period,” McMackin said. “Live is the key word.
"We want it live," she said. "The students don’t have many chances to experience live theatre [and] this is all about getting the live arts into the school.”
This is not the first time McMackin has invited Norfolk to perform. He has been coming to Hazelwood West Middle School since its inception in '07, and has worked with the Hazelwood School District for 20 years, visiting students from every grade and entertaining them with his unique brand of storytelling.
During the show, Norfolk told the tale of three African Americans. He started off with York, the slave of William Clark and his role in the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. He told of how York was the first black man the Native Americans of the Great Plains had ever seen, and how they believed he was a magical being, even calling him "Big Medicine," the shape-shifter.
He then borrowed a tale from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He recreated the journey north of Eliza, a slave who crossed the icy Ohio River so that her master could not separate her from her three-year old daughter.
Finally, he presented the tale of Henry ‘Box’ Brown, a slave from Richmond, Virginia who survived 27 hours in a crate on his way north to Philadelphia, so that he could become a free man and buy back his family. Brown would go on to become an abolitionist and public speaker himself, before he was forced to flee to England when his former master came after him thanks to the Fugitive Slave Act.
Norfolk, a former park ranger at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park, has been entertaining audiences for more than 34 years. He left his job as a ranger in '86 to pursue storytelling full-time, and since then has accumulated a wide array of awards and accolades. He has performed across the world, with 10 CDs, several books and three Emmys for his work on Gator Tales, which aired on the local CBS affiliate--KMOV, to his name. Norfolk said being an entertainer is just a part of his being.
“I would do living history at the Arch and Courthouse (downtown) in addition to working with The Black Rep on area plays and performances," he said on how he became an entertainer. "This created an energy in me where I didn’t need any formal training...it was always a matter of working with the Black Rep and Springboard to Learning and getting in front of audiences.”
McMackin said she intends to bring Norfolk back again next year because of his ability to express what live theatre is all about.
“Bobby is a great example of live theatre that is totally engaging, especially to this age group," she said. "He has never failed to engage every audience I’ve seen him work with.".