A Play with Music
by Carlyle Brown
It is February 25, 1922 – the last night in the life of celebrated Negro entertainer, Bert Williams. In a break between performances, Bert regales his longtime assistant with songs and stories and finds himself confronting his own legacy of a career built on the exploitation of Negro stereotypes. Nobody, No Time is a play with music that looks inside one of the most complex and conflicted figures in the Vaudeville era.
Bert Williams is considered a pioneer of American Vaudeville. In an age when black performers were discriminated against as a matter of course, Williams rose to stardom through his mastery of physical comedy.
In the early years of the twentieth century, Williams found an artistic partner in African-American George Walker, and the pair developed blackface shows that found humor in universal situations rather than racial stereotypes, a new precedent in Vaudeville.
Following the success of his partnership with Walker, Williams became the first African-American man to work for the Ziegfeld Follies of New York City. Williams Follies fame lead to a contract with Columbia Records, resulting in recordings of hits such as Nobody and Play that Barbershop Chord. By 1920, Williams was one of the three highest paid recording artists in the world.
In 1922 Williams collapsed during a performance of Under the Bamboo Tree in Detroit, MI. He died a month later and was mourned by thousands of fans at his funeral in New York City.
Speaking on the discrimination he faced throughout his career and life, Williams stated, “I have never been able to discover that there was anything disgraceful in being a colored man. But I have often found it inconvenient… in America.”
Nobody, No Time has had a workshop and readings as part of the Playwrights’ Center PlayLabs New Play Festival in October 2012.
Directed by Marion McClinton
Music Direction by Victor Zupanc
Stage Manager : Sarah Holmberg
|Brian Anthony Wilson*||Bert Williams|
|Brian Grandison*||George Walker|
|Timotha Lanae*||Aida Overton Walker|
|Thomasina Petrus*||Lottie Williams|
|Patrick Bailey*||Florenz Ziegfeld/David Belasco|
|Adia Morris*||Stage Directions|
*Member, Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers