The Towerlight

Baltimore, MD

February 2, 2006

One-man show profiles visionary Baldwin

Calvin Levels to share story of ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ author Friday at Main Stage Theater

by Erica Kritt

“James Baldwin was black and gay in a time when it was not okay to be either one. He was a visionary artist and thinker channeling ideas about race, sexuality, human rights, and interpersonal communication,” junior mass communication major Phillip Whitehurst said.


That may be why Calvin Levels is visiting campus this week. Levels has been familiar with Baldwin’s work ever since he was a child working in an integrated theater.


“One day I was writing at home relaxing and I thought we could use a voice like Baldwin’s today,” Levels said.

Baldwin was an American writer with his own perspective. Many don’t know the famed author, but Calvin Levels knows Baldwin backward and forward, and he wants college kids to know him too. “What better place than colleges,” Levels said of his college tour. “I want to spread the seeds there and let them flourish, that was my initial intention – to get it to young people.”


So, what exactly is Levels bringing to Towson? James Baldwin? Yes and no. Baldwin, who died in 1987, left an indelible mark on Levels, an actor who has spent time in movies, television and has been on Broadway garnering a Tony nomination.


Levels created a one-man show three years ago and took it on the road to visit colleges. In the show Levels covers all of Baldwin’s life.


“I do play Baldwin, his spirit returns from the ethereal realm to help an actor who is uninspired before his performance on Broadway, the actor is desperate and calls on Baldwin’s spirit,” Levels said.


Levels cannot definitively say when he decided to do this.


“I don’t know if I chose Baldwin or Baldwin chose me,” he said. “I feel like it is relevant to the times we are living in. He’s timeless and we really need to hear it.”

The show’s title, “James Baldwin: Down From the Mountaintop,” is a play on his most famous novel, “Go Tell it on The Mountain.”


“‘Down From the Mountaintop’ was an idea I created, he’s coming back down from the mountaintop and delivering the information,” Levels said.


Whitehurst, who worked on bringing Levels to campus, hopes many will understand and appreciate the knowledge that Baldwin imparts.


“I want people to recognize James Baldwin’s works as contemporary ideas that offer introspective views of the world we are currently living in,” he said.


Towson’s African American Cultural Center, in conjunction with the Queer Student Union, the Kuumba Players and the Theater Department worked hard to bring Levels to Towson.


Yvonne Hardy-Phillips, director of the African American Cultural Center, has been working on this event since the beginning of last semester, according to Whitehurst, who assists with public relations for the AACC and is the secretary of QSU.


The show, which will be held at the Main Stage Theater in the Center for the Arts Feb. 3 at 8 p.m., is one performance Levels is proud of.


“It’s the most difficult task I’ve undertaken,” he said. “I had written a play and some screenplays but it’s really gratifying on so many levels to watch your work develop like this.”


After writing the piece Levels took it to the actor’s studio where he is a member and worked on it for about a year using new tools and techniques, then moving on to performing it in Los Angeles and West Hollywood.


His challenge continues, Levels explained: “It’s difficult because Baldwin is such a complex figure. His brilliance, his intellect and his emotional level,” Levels said.


“I’m still discovering this play, it’s a living piece because Baldwin would speak to the times he was here.”


Touring the show, Levels has both given and gotten inspiration.


“I love meeting students and faculty, I’ve met a lot of people who knew or worked with Baldwin, they give me insight,” he said. “It’s a challenge and inspiring, it helps me grow as a person, I’m evolving as a person through this.”


Whitehurst hopes Towson students can take something away from the show.


“Our campus will benefit from seeing this play about [Baldwin’s] life. I would hope that some would even seek out Baldwin’s works and challenge themselves on some of the issues he so bravely faced in his life,” he said.


Levels feels the same way about his performance.


“I want audiences to be inspired to read his work, I want them to get his message – that was one of love and humanity,” he said.


“I want them to continue their search or initiate their search for truth and self identity and take initiative in changing the history of this world. Baldwin did it by discovering himself and being honest with the past and the present.”


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