By Juan R. Garcia
Suddenly Biggs whispered to the crowd, “Can I get an ‘at ease’?”
His audience let out a collective sigh, some even smiling at the awkward silence that had passed. But as Biggs began to tell his story the room drew quiet again; members of the audience leaned in close to listen.
Trooper Tyrrell Biggs, performing as a member of the African-American Buffalo Solidiers’ 10th Calvary Regiment, is not a real person. He is a character played by James Reed Faulkner, a historical re-enactor, writer and performer with the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, 1834 Southmore Blvd., in Houston.
Faulkner performed in Room 238 of Main Campus Building as part of the University’s Black History Month events. The Buffalo Soldiers event was hosted by the office of student engagement and success.
The museum, part of the Houston Museum District Association, is a historical resource for learning and understanding the significance and contributions of the African-American regiments who fought during Indian Wars of the American West, Spanish American War of 1898, WWI and WWII, according to the museum’s website.
Faulkner’s performance is an excerpt from his one-man theatrical play “LEGACY: The Buffalo Soldiers Story.” In it, he recounts the life of a Buffalo Soldier through the eyes of a man named Tyrrell Biggs, a former slave who became a soldier in the late 1860s after the American Civil War.
“I originally wrote (it) with two other actors in mind,” Faulkner said. “There was also supposed to be a musician who would create the sound effects needed for the performance.”
Faulkner said that when he presented his idea to his manager he was advised that because of the recent state of the economy, a multi-actor show would be too expensive.
“If you want to do this it’s going to have to be a one-man show,” Faulkner said, recounting his manager’s reaction to his proposal.
To the students and faculty that attended Faulkner’s performance, the use of theatre to bring history to life left a definite impression on students.
Biology senior Antonio Gamez, a self-proclaimed history buff, said that the performance was better than what he expected, admitting that he thought it was just going to be “poster boards and a video.”
“It was great,” Gamez said. “One man shows are probably the hardest things to do because you have one person playing many different characters, but he did a great job.”
Gamez said he heard about the event from the fliers around campus and decided to attend.
“Military history is something I have an appreciation for,” he said.
Other students found their way over to the performance by similar means.
Biology junior Arlyne Martinez said she heard about the event from another student and, unfamiliar with the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, decided to attend.
“I thought it sounded cool,” Martinez said. “And, I remembered it was Black History Month.”
Martinez said that she too didn’t know what to expect and found Faulkner’s performance refreshing.
“It was really good,” Martinez said.
Faulkner said that he was satisfied with how his show turned out.
“As a one man show I get to work all the characters and have complete control,” Faulkner said. “With more people you don’t really get that freedom.”
Freedom to reach back into time and perform a living history:
Back at the front of the room, Faulkner’s face conveyed a mask of sobering horror as Tyrrell Biggs examined the dead following a battle. In closing, he looked out into the distance with wet eyes, and with a quivering frown brought his hand back to his forehead in salute.
He addressed the audience one last time before marching back out the door.
“I am a Buffalo Soldier,” Biggs says. “And I have a job to do.”
More Black History Month events
A Feb. 29 event will close out Black History Month. “Soul Food Festival” will be 11 a.m.-2 p.m at Main Campus and 3 p.m.-5 p.m. at Brooks Campus. Students and faculty who are interested in learning more about the festival can check the University event calendar for more updates.
Also, the office of student engagement and success is hosting a daily trivia bowl with questions relating to Black History Month. The trivia questions can be accessed through their Facebook page and is currently open to all students.