“Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
Those stark words are from African-American author James Baldwin’s fourth non-fiction book, Name in the Street. The writing tackles tough subjects such as McCarthyism, the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
It’s fitting that these are the words Joy Vandervort-Cobb, associate professor of African American theatre and performance at the College of Charleston, leaves at the bottom of each email she sends. With every production she works on and everyone student she meets, Vandervort-Cobb’s goal is always to enlighten and empower.
That’s why she is among 14 people being honored this weekend at the MOJA Arts Festival’s Community Tribute Luncheon. The gathering, which will be held on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, recognizes outstanding community leaders for their contributions in the region. Vandervort-Cobb is being honored for her work as a theatrical artist.
“MOJA’s [Planning and Community Tribute Luncheon Committee] chose to pay tribute to Joy Vandervort-Cobb this year, recognizing her outstanding artistic talents and her unwavering resolve to enhance the quality of life in her community,” says Elease Amos Goodwin, MOJA Arts Festival Planning Committee member and Community Tribute Luncheon chairwoman.
A mainstay in local and regional theater, Vandervort-Cobb has performed in productions ranging from Shakespeare’s The Tempest to The Vagina Monologues. Vandervort-Cobb has also worked as a stage manager on national touring productions of Sophisticated Ladies and Ain’t Misbehavin’. She has appeared in several television shows such as Lifetime’s Army Wives and CBS’ The Inspectors. In 2012 she served as a voice actor for the award-winning documentary Where Do We Go From Here?…the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.
And the accolade comes as she performs in a MOJA Festival production of the play Sweat at PURE Theatre.
“It’s wonderful when we see the interconnectedness of an artist’s role in our community,” comments Scott Watson, director of the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs, which manages the MOJA Festival. “Joy’s work with PURE Theatre, including Sweat in this year’s festival, her work as an educator and mentor, and her passion for social justice cast her as a point of inspiration and as a true Charleston treasure.”
“Being honored by the MOJA Tribute for the Arts is quite humbling,” says Vandervort-Cobb, who has taught at the College for 24 years.
Written by the Pultizer-Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage, Sweat tells the story of a group of friends who have spent their lives sharing drinks, secrets, and laughs while working together on the factory floor. But when layoffs and picket lines begin to chip away at their trust, the friends find themselves pitted against each other in a heart-wrenching fight to stay afloat. Vandervort-Cobb portrays Cynthia, a complex character whose goal is to carry on no matter what life throws her way.
“I love speaking Lynn Nottage’s words. I love her characters, the depth of research and truth she pours into the work she writes,” says Vandervort-Cobb. “Cynthia is this hard working, hard loving woman, who has both vision and grit – and a hell of a lot of obstacles she is willing to plow through, climb over or step on.”
As with all of her work in the theater, Vandervort-Cobb says she loves tackling roles that offer a sincerity and sharpness aimed at engaging the audience and having them depart thinking about the world just a little differently.
“Having the opportunity to play this role and speak words I so truly believe in, about issues so close to those I hold in my head-heart-soul space … well, there’s nothing quite like it, is there?” says the theater professor.
Vandervort-Cobb is appearing alongside several CofC performers including alumni Joel Watson ’18 and Jacob Milano ’17, and R. W. Smith and Cristy Landis, who work at the College as academic advisors. Jesse Portillo, a lighting design professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, is on the design team and alumnae Camille Pompeii ‘10 is the production’s costume designer. Performances for Sweat will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 5 and Oct. 6, at the Dock Street Threatre. The final performance on Sunday, Oct. 7, will take place at 3 p.m. For more information about Sweat visit PURE Theatre’s website.