Goshen Paul Robeson is known mostly as deep baritone voice in “Old Man River,” in the classic musical “Showboat.” But few know about his many outsized talents and achievements, or the challenges he faced because of his life and times. Ken Tshan, producer of the Educational Theatre Series for the Goshen Public Library and Historical Society, hopes to change that with the library’s new play, “Paul Robeson: All-American,” to be performed in April. Robeson was a scholar and an athlete: he was the first black All American fullback to play for Rutgers University and was also valedictorian of his class. He went on to law school but the U.S. Bar Association excluded him because of the color of his skin. Robeson was a talented singer and actor. He was the first African-American ever to play a “fellow,” Tshan said. He was also a great political activist who was blacklisted after falling victim to McCarthy era red-baiting. He was subsequently stripped of his All-American status and almost lynched in Peekskill in 1949. “What excites me about this project is that it really serves the mission of The Educational Theatre Series,” Tshan said. “It offers some details about a man’s life that many people don’t know or don’t care to know. When a lot of folks hear the name 'Paul Robeson’ they quickly say “He was a communist,” and that’s it. This play shows where this country and this world were during the times when this amazing African-American athlete, actor, singer, activist, scholar, and peace-maker was standing on the earth. Sometimes we are so quick to label a person.” The 75-minute play touches on all of the different parts of Robeson’s life. The play is directed and adapted by Tshan, and is loosely based upon the play by Phillip Hayes Dean. “The main difference about 'Paul Robeson: All-American’ is that we approached this play in a unique fashion,” Tshan said. “We work-shopped many of the scenes as opposed to rehearsing them. The actors and I have added new dialogue and moved around various moments of Paul’s life in an effort to create a moving theatrical experience. My aim, always, is to connect with the audience. The show is about them it is about giving them something special. If they walk out a little bit changed from where they were when they walked in, we have done our job.” Robeson will be played by Jeff Starr, a seasoned actor who has worked with Ken Tshan for more than 15 years. He played Oscar Charleston in the library’s production of “Cobb” last year. “He is a powerful performer,” Tshan said. Les Ferguson plays several characters in the show. An accomplished character actor with many credits, he played the elder Ty Cobb in last year’s show and has been in past productions such as “As You Like It,” “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” and “Flowers for Algernon.” Christopher Sullivan will perform the music. He is a founder of the Willie “The Lion” Smith Goshen Jazz Festival and a professional musician. Tshan is grateful to Gerry Hluchan for allowing the series to use the Goshen Music Hall space for rehearsals. The Educational Series’ productions helped audiences understand that Albert Einstein did more than invent the atomic bomb, Emily Dickinson did more than write poetry, Vincent Van Gogh did more than cut off his ear, and Ty Cobb did more than hit a baseball. And as audiences will discover through this new play, Paul Robeson did a whole lot more than just sing “Old Man River.” Shakespeare at Salesian coming up This summer, the library will offer a one-hour version of William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” under the big tent at Salesian Park in Goshen rain or shine on July 9, 10, 16, and 17.
When a lot of folks hear the name 'Paul Robeson’ they quickly say 'He was a communist’ and that’s it. This play shows where this country and this world was during the times when this amazing African-American athlete, actor, singer, activist, scholar, and peace-maker was standing on the earth. Sometimes we are so quick to label a person.” Ken Tshan, producer
Essential information What: “Paul Robeson: All American” When: April 1, 2, 8 and 9 at 7 p.m.; April 3 and 10 at 2 p.m. Where: Main Street School, 227 Main St., Goshen Cost: Free Directed and adapted by Ken Tschan Reservations: Seating is limited and reservations are required. Visit www.goshenpubliclibrary.org or call 294-4188