Alum spotlight: Adanma Onyedike Barton (BFA ’03) Performance & (MFA ’09) Pedagogy, concentration Acting

adanma headshot

Adanma came to VCU as a Communications major, but she “promptly walked out of her first class.” Adanma continues, “I knew I didn’t want to do that. I proceeded to cry all over campus!” She went to see THUNDER KNOCKING ON THE DOOR because it was back in the days when students could see shows for free. “I remembered how much I loved theatre. After the show I thanked director Marvin Sims (the late head of performance in the department), and he said ‘Why don’t you try taking a theatre class?’ That changed my entire life.”

rivals cast

She found undergrad “interesting and amazing. I had a really good mix of professors. I learned a lot about everything.” She also started working professionally with SPARC, the Science Museum of Virginia and Firehouse Theatre in Richmond.

After graduation, she lived in New York–“not much going on diversity-wise”, Chicago—“my winter coat from Tidewater didn’t work” and LA—”I don’t like it when the Earth moves”.  So she ended up back in Virginia in 2005.

When she decided to move back to Richmond, she called Noreen Barnes, who invited her to meet Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates (a current professor in the department who teaches acting and directing). “I wasn’t sure I wanted both degrees from the same school, but ended up taking solo performance with Dr. T and that changed everything.”

v c u arts students performing on stage

This time, she graduated with a full-time job at Berea College. Her then fiancée was Shane Barton with a degree from VCU’s Urban and Regional Planning. “He asked me to apply for jobs in Appalachia and said, ‘If you get a job at one of these schools we can get married.’” So, she picked Berea, where she’s been an Associate Professor for ten years.

Adanma is the first Black president of the Kentucky Theatre Association and the first Black woman to serve on the Executive Board of SETC. She also directs one African-American play every other year at Berea. Adanma relates  “We closed in such a rush.  It was early March and we had gotten back from Spring Break.  Monday the Administration said  everything is fine.  Tuesday, 10 minutes before my Acting class, the President emails that we are closing and all students need to be gone by Saturday.  It was like a bomb went off….  That was it.  Last week was the first time I had been in the building since March.  I walked through the building and … went to my office.  The students call my office The Purple Palace…I have sparkly pillows and crystals … I saw a water bottle that one of my Seniors left and I just lost it.  I mean I ugly-cried as I closed my office door, took one last look at the ghost light and drove home.”  Like everyone else, Adanma is working to transfer her performance courses to the online format.

Written by Liz Hopper (Emeritus Faculty) and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the August 2020 Theatre Alumni Newsletter