Jill Marie Lawrence: A Spawning of the Arts in Africa

Harlem resident, actress and community supporter Jill Marie Lawrence recently went on a trip to Tanzania to work on the artistic project, International Theatre Literacy Project for children.

On my journey to the Tanzanian village known as Tengeru in Africa, I was pleasantly surprised by the childrens reaction upon seeing my cohort and colleague Marianna Houston. The kids came running toward us with pure joy and excitement on their faces, as if a Mr. Softee truck perched itself on a Harlem street corner. I literally spun around to catch what all the excitement is about, and right before me they yelled, “Mama Marianna, she’s back! She’s here. She’s here.”

As we were walking down a dirt road, a “dollar, dollar” van packed with commuters whisked by. We noticed women on the Bantu stands while others sport baskets, stacked high on their heads like a lady walking down Lenox Ave. with her new Sunday hat.

Houston is the founding executive director and creator of The International Theatre Literacy Project (ITLP). The project entering in its sixth year brings theatre artists (like myself) from the United States to developing countries to conduct community-based play-writing and theatre workshops for secondary school students and teachers.

It all began in 2003, when she traveled to the country with an organization called Cross Cultural Solutions as a volunteer. She was asked to cover an additional week for a head teacher who had been recuperating from surgery. Both moved and terrified at the invite, Marianna quickly thought that maybe perhaps discoveries can be made when thrown into life’s greatest risk. Therefore, she took on the opportunity and went with it. From the experience, Marianna noticed how hungry these students were for the artistic voice and vision.

Moved by the demand they had for her to return, Marianna thought long and hard about the children that she now call “her babies”. During each project, we asked the following questions: “What are your thoughts? What are your dreams? What are you passionate about?” These questions would help them foster independent thinking in a way that can make them utilize their imagination. Such questions would be new to the students due to Tanzania’s formal way of teaching. Along with cultural artist, Stephen Dimenna, Marianna developed a new way of teaching to children in rural communities in Tanzania. A week long project was conducted at Akeri Secondary School in Tengeru Village, which was a huge success….

The remaining story will be featured in the Spring 2010 issue of Harlem World Magazine.

The author Jill Marie Lawrence has been featured in several of the nation’s most critically-acclaimed television series including HBO’s The Soprano’s as “Detective Piersol”, “NBC’s Law&Order as “Evelyn,” and a recurring role on NBC’s Law&Order SVU as “Attorney Conrad.” Her stage repertoire includes Off-B’way appearances in “The Best & Final Offer”, at the American Place Theatre (now the Roundabout Theatre), “A Wrinkle In Time” @ The Lincoln Center Lab and “Coat Rack” at Playwrights Horizon. Some of her favorite classics have been, “Casio” & “Emilia” in Othello, Helena in A Midsummer’s night Dream and “Rose in Fences. Currently she can be seen on the silver screen in a new feature with Sarah Michelle Gellar entitled “Veronika Decides To Die”, last year she appeared with John Ligazamo in “Where God Left His Shoe’s” which r’cvd numerous awards at various film festivals, one being the Sundance in Utah. Ms. Lawrence has also appeared with Robert DeNiro and Frances McDormand in “City By The Sea”
She is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama.


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Photographs taken by Jill Marie Lawrence and top photo and map courtesy of the Yahoo.com. Story edited by Aisha Brown, Bridget Smith and David Makonnen II.

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