'Show Boat' star honors ancestors Homage: Baltimorean actress Karen-Angela Bishop decided to forgo the usual program biography in favor of telling a story of slavery; Theater

Baltimore native Karen-Angela Bishop's bio in the Kennedy Center program for "Show Boat" -- in which she plays the tragic character, Julie -- is not the standard list of credits.

Instead, it reads, in part: "Karen-Angela Bishop ... is proud to be the great-great granddaughter of American-born slaves Ellen Walton and Wright Cherry. Just before the era in which 'Show Boat' takes place, Ellen Walton was severely reprimanded for slapping her white slave master in the face. Her insolence was such a serious crime in pre-Civil War North Carolina that she was promptly beaten and sold to the state of Georgia, and forced to leave behind her only daughter, Hanna Ann."


Speaking from her parents' Ashburton home, where she is staying throughout "Show Boat's" two-month Washington engagement, Bishop said when she began performing in the touring production, "I kept thinking [that] this was the same country that the people in the bio lived in. This was what their lives were like -- a window into what it was like for them. The thought of them kept haunting me. I thought, why don't I just honor them?"

The fifth and youngest child of Helen and Elbert Bishop (a retired Baltimore County teacher), the actress said she became interested in theater when she began appearing in school plays at Western High School. After her 1984 graduation, however, she enrolled in Towson University to study journalism.


But, Bishop explained, "I found myself spending a lot more time in my acting classes than in my communications classes. A year into it, I told my parents I wanted to be an actress. They said, 'You want to be a what?' But after the initial shock, they recovered and they were very supportive and realized it wasn't just a phase."

Maravene Loeschke, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication at Towson, was one of Bishop's acting teachers and remembers that, even as a student, Bishop had "a tremendous presence on stage," a quality the dean says can't be taught.

"It was very clear from the beginning she was very talented," Loeschke continued. "There was a very humanistic spirit to her work. Her characters were honest and deep and multifaceted. They seemed like real people."

After Towson, Bishop spent a year with the National Players, the touring program of Olney Theatre Center, before earning her master's degree from the Yale School of Drama.

Since then, she's rarely been out of work. Before "Show Boat," she acted primarily in classical plays at leading regional theaters around the country, although for one season she played the recurring role of district attorney Annette Thomas on Fox TV's "New York Undercover."

Originally cast in the chorus of "Show Boat," Bishop understudied the role of Julie -- the mulatto leading lady on the show boat, Cotton Blossom -- for the first of her three years with the tour. (This production, one of two "Show Boat" companies now on tour, is closing after its Kennedy Center engagement).

Commenting on Julie's tragic fate, Bishop said, "I think about the price that Julie pays by not being able to accept who she is. But I have relatives who were probably in a similar position and could have made the same decision as Julie, but they chose to be proud of who they were, to accept who they were and live and survive."

"Show Boat" continues at Washington's Kennedy Center, off Virginia and New Hampshire avenues N.W., Washington, through Sunday. Show times are 8 p.m. tomorrow through Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday; matinees are 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $26-$71. Call 800-444-1324.


Fighting oppression

Before the 27th congress of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, being held at Goucher College at the end of the month, Brazilian theater director Augusto Boal will conduct two workshops on the use of theater in fighting oppression.

"Theatre of the Oppressed," Boal's four-day workshop -- scheduled for 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily, from July 22-25 -- uses techniques developed by the director in the 1950s and 1960s to teach participants to recognize oppression, develop responses, and peacefully resist and transcend oppression. A one-day introductory workshop on these techniques will be held from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on July 21.

Both workshops will take place in the Meyerhoff Arts Center on the Goucher campus, 1021 Dulaney Valley Rd. The fee for the four-day workshop is $500; the one-day introductory workshop is $150. For information on the workshops and the congress, call 410-337-6045, or visit the website: http: //

The return of Oakapple

The Young Victorian Theatre Company, which is currently performing "Ruddigore," first produced this Gilbert and Sullivan operetta in 1972. One constant in both productions was the casting of local attorney Harry B. Turner in the comic lead, as Robin Oakapple.


Turner directed and performed with the Young Vic for the first 10 years of its existence, then played mostly non-musical roles at various Baltimore theaters, including Theatre Hopkins and Fell's Point Corner Theatre. Most recently, he has taken a break to spend time with his two children.

Returning to Robin Oakapple, was too great a temptation to resist. "The role, Robin Oakapple, is a little different in that it's not just a silly comic lead patter-man, it's also the romantic lead. It's the only comic lead like that in Gilbert and Sullivan, so it's a little more challenging and it's more interesting for me," Turner said.

"Also in the last 20 years a change has occurred in both me and Gilbert and Sullivan with Joseph Papp's 'Pirates of Penzance' and with things like Irene Lewis' 'H.M.S. Pinafore.' G-and-S operettas are being rediscovered as theater pieces instead of period pieces. Roger Brunyate [artistic director of the Peabody Opera Theatre], who is directing this show, is eschewing a lot of the stodgy conventions."

"Ruddigore" continues at Bryn Mawr School's Centennial Hall, 109 W. Melrose Ave., at 8: 15 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with a matinee at 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $23. Call 410-323-3077.

Pub Date: 7/13/98