Chancellor George Blumenthal gushed like a true fan when he met award-winning actress and distinguished UC Santa Cruz alumna Adilah Barnes on Thursday afternoon.
Greeting Barnes in his office, Blumenthal raved about her recent performance as Mama in a revival of the groundbreaking play A Raisin in the Sun that took place at UC Santa Cruz’s Second Stage theater.
“It was a fantastic performance,” said Blumenthal, who saw the play on opening night. “It was really moving. I love the fact that you are working with students.”
As a token of the campus’s appreciation, Blumenthal presented Barnes with the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award for her many artistic contributions to UC Santa Cruz, recognizing her mentorship of student actors-in-training, as well as her strong, longstanding connections to the campus.
Dean of the Arts Susan Solt and her staff were there to congratulate Barnes, who also received a UC Santa Cruz First Generation Initiative T-shirt, drawing attention to students and faculty who—like Barnes—were the first in their family to graduate from a four-year college or university.
An award-winning performer with many film, television, and stage credits, Barnes had a longstanding role as Anne Marie on ABC's Roseanne, which is now being revived, with new episodes. Her film credits include the blockbuster award-winning Erin Brockovich and Murder by Numbers.
The UC Santa Cruz production was directed by lecturer Don Williams and featured drama students from the African American Theatre Arts Troupe, an ensemble he founded on campus in 1991. Williams, who has worked with Barnes on several other occasions, including her performance in a solo show at UC Santa Cruz, praised her acting chops as well as her ability to inspire young performers.
“Adilah has the right spirit about theater, and an excellent vision when it comes to building character,” said Williams, founder and artistic director of the African American Theater Arts Troupe. “She is kind of like a magic wand that every student wants to measure up to. They want to know how she does what she does.” Many students ended up “taking notes’’ about the way Barnes creates and embodies her character, right down to the shoes she wears, he added. “Even when she is not talking (on stage), she is in the moment.”
Her return to UC Santa Cruz has felt like a homecoming for Barnes. “It’s been very exciting and rewarding,” especially considering how much her years on campus helped her finesse her craft, she said. “Many of those experiences that I had here really served me, in terms of moving forward. I really cut my teeth on theater here.”
In addition to her many appearances in dramatic productions, Barnes cofounded the Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival, an annual multicultural solo festival now in its 25th year, and founded the Writers Well international literary retreat for women in Sharpsburg, Georgia.
Barnes has also toured 40 states and three continents (including North America, Africa, and Europe) with her one-woman play, I Am That I Am: Woman, Black. Her first book, On My Own Terms, was published in 2008 and ranked number three in June 2009 on the Essence magazine best-seller list just behind two books by Barack Obama.
On My Own Terms includes a chapter detailing her experiences at UC Santa Cruz. After receiving her award, Barnes, a Cowell College affiliate, presented Blumenthal with a signed copy of the book last week.
- By Dan White