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Two Ohio State Students Awarded National Theatre Grant

Two Ohio State Students Awarded National Theatre Grant

Ohio State University (OSU) graduate students Aviva Helena Neff and Caroline Hill have been selected as recipients of the inaugural Sallie Bingham Grant from the organization History Matters/Back to the Future. Named for famed poet and playwright Sallie Bingham, four grants were awarded to applicants from across the country. The funds were allocated to help produce historical work by women theatre-makers.

“Aviva and I each applied, hoping that at least one of us would get it, but it ended up being a shock when we were both awarded,” Hill said.

Neff and Hill used their awards to co-produce a festival they called “She, Too, Sings America.” Neff selected Georgia Douglas Johnson’s 1925 play A Sunday Morning in the South (white church version, black church version) and Eulalie Spence’s Fool’s Errand (1927). The two pieces address issues and themes such as respectability politics, systemic racism, and faith within turn-of-the-century black American communities.

“She, Too, Sings America,” which took place on Oct. 20, was part of a Columbus-wide celebration of the Harlem Renaissance’s centennial entitled  “I Too, Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100.” The year-long schedule of events serves as an homage to Columbus’ historical black American artistic community through education, exposure, and expression. Ongoing events throughout 2018 range from art exhibitions, concerts, theatre performances, and community conversations about the lasting impact of the Harlem Renissance.

Fool’s Errand is a light-hearted one-act play which centers on a series of mistaken events and small-town gossip fueled by a group of church sisters who believe a woman’s worth is measured by her public reputation. Spence’s play touches on the role of the church in personal matters and the changing agency of young women in the early 20th Century.

A Sunday Morning in the South (white church version, black church version) takes place in the kitchen of the matriarchal Sue Jones’ home as the characters discuss lynchings and violence over breakfast. An unwelcome guest disturbs this montage by accusing the young Tom Griggs of assaulting a white woman, resulting in his extrajudicial lynching.

Both Neff and Hill had past experience with this play. Neff had previously taught it and found that it had resonated with her students. Hill studied it in her classes and said she felt the same way. The grant stipulated that the funded projects must be work created before 1967. By that point, Neff and Hill had decided they wanted to work with Douglas Johnson’s and Spence’s work, so “it worked out perfectly,” Hill said.

Through their productions and after-show programming, Neff and Hill aimed to recreate the atmosphere of the famous “S Street Salon,” a meeting place for black intellectuals, artists, and activists hosted in Douglas Johnson’s private home. Salon performances were very common in the late Victorian and Modern eras, and conversation was often encouraged after reading a script out loud or watching a workshop performance. To replicate this experience, "She, Too, Sings America" included a talkback session facilitated by Dr. Treva B. Lindsey, an associate professor in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at OSU.

In addition to the performances themselves, the grant funding also allowed Neff and Hill to pay the actors, which they said is rare for student productions. Both women said they were excited to do this because the actors put so much time and thought into these readings.

“We wanted to be able to give our actors resume experience as well as monetary credit for the work and emotion they have put in,” Neff said.

She added that the opportunity to bring these works to life on stage was meaningful for many reasons.

“It is very rewarding to find myself in a feminist space with this work,” Neff said. “I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with these beautiful plays, with History Matters/Back to the Future, and with my good friend Caroline.”

For more information about History Matters/Back to the Future, visit

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Beth Graham, 2018-19 Social Media and Special Events Fellow
Featured image: Dr. Treva B. Lindsey, Associate Professor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at OSU, served as talkback facilitator during "She, Too, Sings America," a theatre festival produced by Aviva Helena Neff and Caroline Hill that received an inaugural
 Sallie Bingham Grant from the organization History Matters/Back to the Future. (Photo courtesy of Aviva Helena Neff and Caroline Hill)

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