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Lafayette will inaugurate a series of major conferences on the history and culture of civil rights and civil liberties with a three-day conference entitled “Paul Robeson: His History and Development as an Intellectual” on campus April 7-9.

Miller Lucky Jr., associate professor of theater at North Carolina A&T State University, will speak on “The Significance of the Production History of Phillip Hayes Dean’s Paul Robeson” at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, April 9, in Kirby Hall of Civil Rights 104 (see conference schedule). Joining Lucky as presenters in this session will be Ed Bullins, Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at Northeastern University, and conference co-organizer Samuel A. Hay, visiting professor of government and law at Lafayette. The moderator will be Suzanne Westfall, professor of English at Lafayette.

When Miller Lucky Jr., was asked to prepare a presentation on Paul Robeson several years ago for a symposium on African American theater, he knew very little about Robeson.

“I had heard of him, but never really went into depth with his life until I went to do some research for that paper. I traveled to the Schomburg Center in New York, and that’s when I got into piles and piles of articles and books and realized that he was a civil-rights activist. That’s what intrigued me, that he stood up for all African Americans, he was a humanist,” Lucky says.

Robeson could have accepted fame and fortune as an actor and lived a luxurious, non-contentious life, Lucky adds. “But he sacrificed that kind of lifestyle for the rights of dignity and humanity for others. That was incredible, and I was fascinated by that. This was at a time when a black person could get lynched for speaking out. He was pretty brave.”

Lucky has chaired the Southeastern Theatre Conference Directing Award Committee and he has made presentations on directing for the Association for Theatre in Higher Education as well as the Southern Theater Conference. His theater students have gone on to receive roles in, among others, HBO’s The Wire; the Broadway production of The Lion King; and the television shows Saturday Night Live, In Living Color, and Moesha.

In 1999 he was named best director by the Kennedy Center/American College Theater Festival for his direction of the play David Richman, which was written by Samuel A. Hay, visiting professor of government and law at Lafayette and co-organizer of the Robeson conference. In 1983, Lucky was named best actor by the Kennedy Center/American College Theater Festival.

At Lafayette’s conference Lucky will discuss Robeson’s study of the Stanislavsky Method to prepare for his acting roles.

“The Stanislavsky Method is a very common method among today’s actors,” Lucky says. “Most acting teachers teach some version of Stanislavsky, which is a psychological approach to acting. Basically, it’s a very natural approach, where actors are in touch with their own selves and use themselves to identify with a role.”

In Robeson’s time, however, before the Stanislavsky Method was taught, or even recognized as viable, acting was based more on stage presence and oration, Lucky says.

“The rap on Robeson at that time was that he wasn’t a great, skilled actor. He was a great concert singer, but reviews of his acting were often mixed. One critic even went so far as to say he had no technique, but was a wonderful singer,” Lucky adds. “What I’m setting out to do to prove Robeson’s critics wrong. My thesis is that Robeson did have acting technique.”

Lucky explains that Robeson, in his autobiography, mentions several ways he prepared for acting roles, including using memories to help him get into a character – for example, remembering a time when he was angry to act out that emotion.

“Those preparations weren’t common or known as the Stanislavsky Method in that time period, but today, Robeson would be right on the mark. What I’m hoping to prove is that Robeson was perhaps before his time,” Lucky says.

Lucky’s approaches as a director are rooted in acting, something he continues to do professionally.

“I think I really knew I had something special – I think it was confirmed publicly – when I was a student performing the lead in Zooman and the Sign. It was then that I thought, ‘Wow, this is fun, but I don’t see myself doing acting anymore.’ I wanted to pass this gift along to other people,” he says.

“What I hope to offer at the conference is modest, another look at Robeson in particular to his acting. Even though he was known as an actor, very little was written about him. In all of the historical writing about him, people seemed to have left that part out.”

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