Tyrone Butler, the executive director at the Augusta Mini Theatre, contends that the best way to teach lessons on history, self-reliance and the human spirit is to make them funky.
On Friday, the theater will open Mr. Butler's original production The Man, the Message, the Music (A Tribute to the Godfather of Soul) at the Jack B. Patrick Technology Center on the campus of Augusta Technical College.
Mr. Butler said he had considered writing a James Brown piece for several years and had floated the idea with the Brown family.
He said it wasn't until the singer's death in December 2006 that he felt he was ready to write it. The attention paid to the Godfather made him realize that his students had no concept of the entertainer's impact, both locally and internationally, he said.
"I mean, we walk the streets and drive the roads he did," Mr. Butler said. "But these kids, they didn't know anything about him walking along the railroad tracks picking up coal to sell. They don't know that he dropped out of school or was abandoned by his mother. But now they get a chance to learn that, firsthand."
The performance is split into two acts. The first is a straight theatrical performance, with two fictional characters serving as the centerpiece. Dialogue and dramatic interaction offer information and illumination about Brown, his life and accomplishments. The second half is all song and dance, with eight dancers interpreting a number of the soul singer's hits.
Mr. Butler said he intentionally avoided using music in the first act.
"We aren't playing it because we know that's why people are there," he said with a laugh. "But in the second act, that's all they are going to get. You can't have dessert first. We wanted to get this information out there, and I think once we do, people will appreciate the music even more."
Mr. Butler said some people have been confused by the format, but he contends that telling a basic chronological tale wouldn't have the same impact.
"The first question people ask is, who is playing James Brown," he said. "Nobody is playing James Brown. There are eight dancers dancing. But people don't listen when I tell them that. They are looking for the regular. But we aren't going to do that."
"It's just too easy."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: The Man, the Message, the Music (A Tribute to the Godfather of Soul)
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Friday, Jan. 25; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, and Saturday Sunday, Jan. 25-26
WHERE: Jack B. Patrick Technology Center on the campus of Augusta Technical College, 3200 Augusta Tech Drive
COST: $12, $10 group rate augustaminitheatre.com
CALL: (706) 722-0598