MONTGOMERY – The Troy University Rosa Parks Museum celebrated the ninety-fifth birthday of its namesake with a theatrical performance by acclaimed actress Ella Joyce.
From the stage at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, Joyce delivered an eloquent and emotional tribute to Parks, who passed away two years ago.
The actress brought the crowd of more than six hundred to its feet with “A Rose Among Thorns.” The one-act play tells the story of the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of Parks. “A Rose Among Thorns,” which is written and performed by Joyce and directed by her husband, Dan Martin, also pays homage to lesser know heroes like E. D. Nixon, former NAACP – Montgomery Chapter president.
With upswept hair, wire rimmed glasses and lace gloves, Joyce’s resemblance to Parks is uncanny.
“It is like her spirit merges with mine,” Joyce explained. “I feel like I am no longer there. I let her tell the story.”
“A Rose Among Thorns” debuted in February of 2007 at the Black Academy of Arts & Letters at the Dallas Convention Center. She has since performed the play from coast to coast.
“It began as a labor of love,” Joyce said. “It has really just exploded beyond what I ever imagined.”
As a result, Montgomery’s history is being shared all over the nation. Troy University Rosa Parks Museum Director Georgette Norman said Joyce presents the story in a way that makes people want to listen.
“It is a heavy topic,” Norman said. “She laces it with humor. She humanizes Rosa Parks.”
Joyce grew up in Detroit, where Parks spent the second half of her life. The actress is best known for her television roles on “Roc” and “My Wife & Kids.” Recent movie credits include roles in “Set it Off,” “Selma, Lord Selma” and “Who Made the Potato Salad?”
“I realize it all must have brought me to this point,” Joyce reflected.
During her Montgomery performance, the mayor of Birmingham presented Joyce with a commendation. She has also received praise from members of the Parks family. A relative traveled from Atlanta for the tribute, and Joyce said she is humbled each time she has the opportunity to perform for them.
“I was nervous about how they would feel,” Joyce said, recalling her first performance for the family, “but her niece told me, ‘I don’t want to see anybody play Auntie Rosie but you.”
Later this month, Joyce will bring Rosa Parks to life at the Harlem School of the Arts. Other performances are scheduled for California and Detroit. The actress and playwright hopes the show will one day find a permanent home.
“I would like to see it on Broadway,” Joyce said, with determination.
Proceeds from Joyce’s performance in Montgomery will enable the Rosa Parks Museum to bring other educational programs to the City and Troy University. For more information about the museum, visit www.troy.edu.