‘My Heart is the Drum’ hopes to inspire people to reach for dreams


Colleen Longshaw, graduate theatre studies student and member of the Actors Equity Association, rehearses her part as “Nana” in the play “My Heart is the Drum” in E. Turner Stump Theatre on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015.

Dara Sander

“My Heart is the Drum,” Kent State’s first all-black cast musical, will premiere Feb. 20 and will touch on issues relatable to college students. 

Kuti flees from her poor African town in Ghana, avoids an arranged marriage and travels to get an education and attend a university. On the way to achieving her dream, she is guided by her grandmother’s spirit as she faces adversity and struggles to survive in the new and cruel environment of the big city.

Having the opportunity to have an all black cast meant a lot to Terri Kent, director of the musical and professor in the School of Theatre and Dance.

Kent State will be the first theatre program to ever premiere “My Heart is the Drum.” 

“We (the theatre department) have done a couple shows in conjunction to Pan-African Studies in the 25 years that I’ve been here,” Kent said. “But this is the first time we’ve produced a show that is all African-American.”

Shamara Costa, the lead actress playing Kuti and a senior musical theatre major, said that she has been fortunate and blessed enough to be cast every year in a production, but this is the first time where she is cast in a role that she would actually play in the real world. 

“Theatre has a very small black community, so I think this (musical) is really good for putting Kent State on the map for that,” Costa said.

“You can do an all-black show that has a cast of four or five, but the fact that we have over 20 is phenomenal,” said David Holland, a junior musical theatre major who plays Edward Adu. 

Aside from breaking racial barriers in the theatre world, “My Heart is the Drum” addresses “mega issues in this musical,” Kent said, which every college student faces at some point in their life. 

The issues include friendship, love and facing fears as well as other important sub-themes.

“One of them is the plight of a young woman who wants an education and who is living in an environment where education is a luxury and not necessary,” Kent said. “(Her parents) think she should get married and have children. As a career women, that really touches me.”

Kuti is striving to get an education in a society that doesn’t necessarily encourage females to get an education. 

“This is a very realistic situation in Ghana,” Costa said. “This girl wants so badly to get an education. Everything is standing in her way.”

Education is a motivating factor for many Kent State students, which is also the driving force behind Kuti’s perseverance in “My Heart is the Drum.” 

“I think that’s really important because it’s something that here we take for granted,” Costa said. “I feel like we’re here, and we don’t really focus. A lot of people come, and they drop out or they don’t graduate on time.” 

Kent also said there’s a beautiful story about friendship in “My Heart is the Drum.” 

Holland said he believes that strong friendships like the one in this musical have had significant effects on his life, especially with people in its cast.

“Shamara (Costa) was the first person that connected with me when I got to Kent, my first friend that showed me the way of Kent,” Holland said. 

Holland said that without Costa and his friends Alex Echols, who plays Balinda; William Tipton who plays Lishan; and dance captain Kirk Lydell, he doesn’t think he would have stayed in college or stayed in the theater program. He said his friendships are a huge effect in his life. Friendships at Kent State have also played a huge role in Costa’s life.  

“I just feel like friendships are so important in life as another support system outside of family,” Costa said. “And sometimes friends can support you in ways that family can’t because you open up to your friends in a different way.”  

Facing one’s fears is another key concept in “My Heart is the Drum.” The two lead characters face their fears head-on to achieve their dreams. 

Holland’s character Adu faces his greatest fear to find and help Kuti.

“He thinks this life is good enough here (in the village), he doesn’t need to journey out based off of a curse, but also he’s really scared,” Holland said. “He’s never been outside of a certain area so he has to face his biggest fear. It’s a battle between himself. Are you (Efua) worth the fight against himself?”

Costa related the theme of fear in the musical to a situation in her personal life. She is still trying to figure out life after college as she plans to move to New York and will have to figure out what her life is going to be and how to survive navigating her career. 

Another main theme of the musical, as the title suggests, is to follow your heart as the constant beat of your life no matter what anyone else thinks.

Kent said she also came to that realization in life.

“It wasn’t until I was about 20 that I started to think about ‘you know what I want something bigger than staying in this small town the rest of my life,’” Kent said.

“What your gut feeling is, is usually the right feeling,” Holland said. “What God created you to do, is what you need to do always.”

A quote that stuck with Holland from the play is “Don’t look to others for what you must do. They can’t see all that was meant for you.”

“As people, it’s so easy to be like ‘Oh I kind of know what I should do, but I’m going to ask this person because they can have another opinion on it or they’ll give me permission to do what I really want to do,’” Holland said, “or they’ll tell me what I should do, but really that’s kind of a cop out. Should I do something that people don’t say I should? Or should I follow what my heart is saying and do what I was born to do and just do it?”

In the play, Kuti will stop at nothing to gain her education and shows determination.

Holland describes determination with a baseball analogy, saying “Do you want to step up to the plate and try to hit a home run, or would you rather just strike out and go home because it’s the easier way?”  

These themes can only be presented if the two lead actors are the correct fit for their characters.

Kent said she looks for the essence of the character in people she casts for roles, especially the leads.

“That’s my observation and my perception,” Kent said. “Do they have the skill level, but do they have the essence? Does this person read like a strong-willed young woman and is this guy, is he an innocent young man in love? Does the character themselves, have part of that essence, because if they do it makes it all so much easier.”

Kent said she believes that all the people who were cast exude the essence of the character they are portraying.

“Absolutely,” she said. “Right down the line.”  

Contact Dara Sander at [email protected].