We’re featuring the artists from the Supper Table project throughout the summer. This is the 18th in our series on Supper Table Artists
Alice Childress – playwright, novelist, actress. Born in Charleston, Childress dedicated her life to telling the stories of black Americans, specifically portraying the have-nots of society. Her reach was so vast, author Mary Helen Washington refers to her as “the only African-American woman to have written, produced, and published plays for four decades.”
Tasked with creating the place-setting for Childress is Tonya Gregg. Gregg is a painter who studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art where she became the first full-time art student to be featured in New American Paintings. Her paintings navigate different narratives relating to popular culture, class, consumption, colorism, ancient mythology, and interwoven topics related to black girls and women. She has had solo exhibitions in multiple places locally and has exhibited in several different countries throughout the world.
Gregg explored Childress’ work and specifically found inspiration from her play The Wedding Band, a story of an interracial relationship. This is exactly what Gregg wanted to contemporize in her place setting. She used acrylic paint to create a pop-art effect on both a ceramic plate and mug. Specifically, the artist says her place-setting “is intended to invite people to the Supper Table and provide conversation, comfort or healing within this theme.”
An artist putting Childress into conversation with her own body is Bonita Peeples, a theatre artist who is portraying Childress in the Supper Table theatrical performance. Peeples’ acting debut was performing a monologue of one of the greatest women in history, Madame C.J. Walker. She is a wife, a mother, and a working actor. She is a member of Kaufmann Forensic Actors, the NiA Theatre Company, and serves on the board of the Columbia Children’s Theatre.
Peeples recently reflected on how wonderfully human Childress was. When she would cast her plays, for example, if she had to choose between two friends auditioning for a role, she would be so fearful of hurting a relationship, she would scrap the entire project. While this could be seen as a weakness, Peeples believes it is actually a strength – proof that Childress’ love for others trumped all, a lesson that still can be learned today.
Gregg’s completed place-setting and Peeples’ performance will be available for viewing at both opening events for the Supper Table. Our opening night event is Friday, September 6th, at Trustus Theatre (going fast!), and tickets start at $50. Our second opening event is Sunday, September 8th, at Harbison Theatre, and tickets start at $15.