Step Afrika! photo

People use history to create conversations about what can be changed in the world today. But what about those unknown moments or people? If few know about certain historical events, how can one truly learn and grow from them?

The step dance company Step Afrika! hopes to teach one such event through the virtual premiere of its dance movie “Stono” at the Lied Center for Performing Arts on Wednesday, Sep. 9 at 7 p.m. A virtual Q&A session will follow the film. “Stono” is a virtual replacement for the company’s current live show “Drumfolk” that was supposed to be performed at the Lied Center this fall season. 

“Stono” tells the story of the 1739 Stono Rebellion, the largest insurrection of enslaved African Americans in North America. Brian Williams, executive director of Step Afrika!, said he hopes the film will help people learn about early American history and create dialogue. 

“I hope it will just inspire us to do better as a nation to know our history fully,” Williams said. “We know about the Boston Tea Party, but why don’t we know about the Stono Rebellion? And we know about the Constitution, but why don’t we know about the Negro Act of 1740? Let’s learn all about these different moments in American history.”

Williams said he thinks that, while live theater will always be irreplaceable, the newly formed digital live theater platform has a certain power of its own. 

“I think that there’s nothing that will ever replace live theater. It's a very different experience,” he said. “But the digital platform clearly has its own power, the power of reach, but it’s also a different way to experience the work, a different way to look at it.” 

Step Afrika! isn’t just teaching through the movie. It’s also engaged with UNL students and the Lincoln community through classes, according to Lied Center education and community engagement director Jane Schiermeyer Hansen. 

“We had a lecture demonstration with UNL percussion students and some members of Step Afrika! They got to talk about the body as an instrument or as a percussive device which is really exciting to listen to,” Schiermeyer Hansen said. 

In addition, Schiermeyer Hansen also said a step dance class was held via Zoom. Many schools from the Lincoln community, such as Lincoln Southeast and Lincoln High, had been in attendance, as well as UNL dance students.

Schiermeyer Hansen thinks “Stono” is the perfect replacement for the canceled Step Afrika! live performance “Drumfolk” because the movie is the backbone for the live performance. “Stono” is a precursor to “Drumfolk,” and they each tie into each other. 

“It seemed like a natural fit to replace the event with [the film]. We’re so excited too because there is a virtual Q&A session after the film that is with the creators and Step Afrika! that will dig deeper into that content,” she said. 

While Step Afrika! wasn’t able to perform live this season, both Hansen and Williams expressed hope that the group will be able to make the way to Lincoln next year. 

“Step Afrika! was looking forward to coming to the Lied Center for our first time ever in the history of the organization. Although we’re sorry we won't be able to be live and in person this year, we look forward to coming back and being on stage and in person in 2021,” Williams said.

“Stono” is a free event, but tickets are required for entry. Tickets can be reserved on the Lied Center’s website.