JOURNALIST • EDITOR • DIGITAL STORYTELLING
“In Search of My Father…Walkin’ Talkin’ Bill Hawkins” Tells the Story of Forgiveness
Kentfield, CA—Feb 15, 2012—After 13 years, College of Marin theater instructor W. Allen Taylor is bringing his widely acclaimed, personal theatrical journey, “In Search of My Father…Walkin’ Talkin’ Bill Hawkins,” to a close.
The 90-minute one-man show, initially commissioned in 1998 by the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts in Richmond, is an intimate portrayal of Taylor’s search for the father he never knew, the first black disc jockey in Cleveland. The coming-of-age tale also honors radio and the legacy of the entrepreneurial early black disc jockeys who bridged the races through music.
Not only is it Black History Month, but it seemed like such a great homecoming, Taylor says of his decision to bring the story back to the stage one last time at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts. The final production, six performances only, is part of the inaugural season at the center’s new state-of-the-art theater facility.
East Bay Center for the Performing Arts
339 11th Street, Richmond.
Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons
Feb. 18 – March 4. (There will be a special preview on Friday, Feb. 17.)
Tickets are $15 & $10. Go to: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/217632
For more information, visit www.walkintalkin.com
The two-act play features a cast of 23 characters dating back to the 50s. It spans the arc of forgiveness in a family bound by secrets extending beyond the grave. Taylor recounts, through family stories, being born to a single mother who had a brief affair with a married man but refused to tell him his father’s name. It wasn’t until he was 22, three months after the celebrated Hawkins died, that his mother revealed his identity. Taylor later understood that this was the same man who had interviewed him for his first job when he was 18. It was a ruse interview set up by his parents so Hawkins could meet his son without revealing his identity.
“I went down with a suit and tie and sat with him for nearly an hour,” Taylor says. “I kept having to bring him back to the subject of the job. He asked so many questions about me. As I sat there, I felt this familiarity with him, there was something about him.”
The play has a universal theme that often inspires audience members to approach Taylor after the show with their own family stories.
The production won the “Best Solo Performance of 2006 Award” from the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and earned enthusiastic reviews when it has played across the country. The last time, Taylor performed the show was in New York in 2008.
Taylor, 58, who has taught acting at College of Marin since 2000, started sorting through his past at the age of 44, the same age his father was at his birth. He discovered the rich history of pioneering black disc jockeys. Hawkins, like other black disk jockeys in that era, had his own record shop and broadcasted live out of his shop window in Cleveland. They were, entrepreneurs by necessity, Taylor says.
“Many times they weren’t allowed to work in the stations themselves,” Taylor says. “They had to do remote broadcasts. So, his record shop business was just as popular as his radio show. This is the story of the business acumen of the black community especially in the post WWII era.” It is a legacy that lives on in slam poetry, rap music and even the way the music is showcased. Hawkins was posthumously inducted into the Radio/Television Broadcasters Hall of Fame of Ohio in 2007.
“I have gained so many personal insights over the years,” Taylor says. “I have come into contact with a number of family members and I’ve gotten to meet a number of people who knew him.” Recently, Taylor discovered he had another sister and she will be traveling from the Mid-West to attend the final performance. “My story is a universal story about a single parent household. There’s a lot of emotional healing that can happen.”
Taylor says he’s surprised at how much ground he’s been able to cover in terms of forgiving his father and hopes his audience will take away the power of truthfulness and forgiveness.
“Don’t hold on to anger. That’s something I want people to learn.”
These days, Taylor is squeezing his rehearsals into his busy teaching schedule. The final show is a short run, but Taylor says “it just feels right.”
“I’m really happy with the decision.” It is, however, not the end of the journey. Taylor intends to work on his memoir and possibly a film script.
About W. Allen Taylor
His theater career began in 1979 and includes performances in regional theatres around the country, including critically acclaimed off-Broadway theaters as the Negro Ensemble Co. and La Mama E.T.C. He performed on Broadway in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars and on network television and in feature films. Taylor co-produced off-off Broadway and co-founded the O’lac Repertory Ensemble, a New York-based Audelco Award-nominated theater company dedicated to producing original plays by African-American playwrights. Taylor received his master’s degree from the American Conservatory Theater and began teaching at the College of Marin in 2000.
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