A beautifully crafted set flowing with dazzling costumes and inspiring actors filled the audience with interest as Ohio University highlighted the story of the Berry Hotel, which stood strong on Court Street for nearly 80 years.
“Hotel Berry,” a production produced by the Ohio University College of Fine Arts professional company, Tantrum Theater, will be running in the Forum Theater in the RTV Building Nov. 17-19, Nov. 29 and 30 and Dec. 1-3.
The story focuses on the story of the Berry Hotel, a part of Athens history often overlooked. The show explains the lives of Edward Berry and his wife Martha “Mattie” Berry, a Black couple who owned the Berry Hotel during a time where equity was from reality. The couple were both courageous and welcoming even despite the hardships they faced.
In the show, Edward Berry, a successful businessman, has a dream of being a politician and running for Senate. He hopes for the endorsement of former President Theodore Roosevelt who comes to visit his hotel. In trying to please Roosevelt, Berry loses sight of the importance of his morals and is reminded by his friends and his wife the importance of standing up for the rights of African Americans.
Octavia Hogue, a freshman studying biological sciences, said she thought the show was very interesting, due to the Berry Hotel’s history which is often not spoken of.
“Like any topic in history, if you don't talk about it, it’s just going to disappear,” she said.
Hogue said without having gone to the show she would have had no idea that where now stands the diner Hangover Easy was once the Berry Hotel.
Hogue said it was important for the university to continue to put on shows like “Hotel Berry” in order for everyone living in Athens to know about it.
Addie Collard, a freshman studying acting, said she was interested in the show because she had helped with the costumes and was interested in seeing how the show would turn out with other departments involved.
She said she enjoyed every part of the show and especially how the arts were able to portray and showcase such an important story.
“The arts contribute to such a big community, and it really brings a lot of people in,” she said “Without the arts a lot of people would feel displaced.”
Collard added that having such a developed theater program at Ohio University definitely helped make shows like this possible.
She said she personally did not know much about the history of the show and that having the department provide an outlet for knowledge on topics like the Berry Hotel was really important.
“The arts can discuss such deep problems in ways that speaking just doesn't,” she said. “So it can tackle this topic in a different way than any other can.”
Cassie Cope, a senior studying musical theater, was part of the ensemble and acted as dance captain for the production.
Cope said her favorite part of the journey has been getting to meet people she had never worked with before, including outside artists.
In terms of the actual production, Cope said her favorite part was being a part of the dance sequence.
“I get to just have a ball and dance with one of my best friends,” she said.
Cope said she learned a lot about the history of her college town which she had never had the opportunity of doing before.
“The thing I learned the most is just how much history there is in Athens that we as students who come from other places, parts of the country, states, don't necessarily know and were coming in here for four years and not realizing the deep history that is rooted here,” she said.
Cope added how important she thinks it is for Ohio University students to take the opportunity to learn about Athens history when they can.
“We can’t learn from ourselves unless we know things about the past,” she said. “I think it's important to remember these people who did make Athens such a vibrant and exciting space.”
Cope said as a performer she enjoyed being able to do her part in informing those she could.
“It’s important to tell the stories for those who can't talk anymore,” she said.