At the Academy, one of our main methods of serving the community is through arts access. Arts access provides those in the greater Lynchburg Community and beyond with opportunities to create both on and off our physical campus, as there might have been some blockage preventing their capability to do so otherwise.
One of the greatest pioneers for arts access was none other than Lottie Payne Stratton, who was the last known ticket taker of the segregated box office at the Historic Academy Theatre.
Lottie displayed endless amounts of kindness to patrons, staff, and the community. She constantly sought to provide vast amounts of ingression to the arts for those surrounding her, never-mind their various backgrounds or skin color.
To honor her legacy, the Academy presents the Lottie Payne Stratton Award each year to a valuable individual in our community who is recognized for supplying access to the arts. Our 2021 award recipient is the marvelous Lynchburg performer and playwright, Jennifer Petticolas!
Jennifer Lipford Petticolas is a Lynchburg, VA native who has always had a love of writing. After graduating from Dunbar High School and completing college, she worked at a junior high school in Baltimore, Maryland.
“When you’re doing what you feel you’re called to do, there is always a feeling of surprise and confusion when told you will be receiving an award for it,” says Jennifer. She notes, “I grew up in Lynchburg during segregation. I remember sitting in the balcony of movie theatres. I never realized how small the space was where Miss Lottie sat, I never realized the discomfort she must have felt.”
She continues, “Lottie did her job so little Black children like me could have access to a theatre. Because of people like Miss Lottie, today I can write a play and have it performed on the historic stage of the Academy. I am humbled.”
In 1976, she returned to Lynchburg as she was cast in For Colored Girls and started getting involved with the Academy.“If you have been to a concert at the Academy, and you look around the theatre at people of different races, genders, cultures, religions… they are all connected by the music or by the performance on the stage,” she states.
In honor of Black History Month, Jennifer and the Academy presented “A Tribute to Josephine Baker”, an event that honored the late French entertainer. The night featured community artists and allies, including Academy Artist in Residence, Nick George. They aided in presenting an artistic and introspective look into the life of Josephine Baker through song, dance and poetry. This evening also featured a one-act play written by Jennifer Petticolas titled, Harriet and Josephine: Differently Alike.
In addition to this show, the following are plays that she has written herself: Still Groovin’, The Park Bench, Little Black Dress, A Fried Bologna Kinda Day, I Know the Secret, Black Life Matters, Greener Pastures, Remnants of Her Sins, He Gave Me Flowers, As I Stood at the Gate (adapted from a novel of the same title by David Woulf), Divas and Gents, Second Hand Furniture Store, Take Me Back.
“While writing plays, I have done a lot of research,” she states. “I have learned so much about history, people and emotions. I can not imagine my life without the arts as a part of it.”
Jennifer’s life shines a clear spotlight on arts access in the Lynchburg community and beyond. She states, “Access to the arts is important because the arts are a way of teaching people.” She continues, “It is a way of sharing and receiving information about the history and the culture of people different from oneself.”
Jennifer Petticolas is a vital member of the Lynchburg community, she serves not only as a pioneer for arts access, but for all arts in general. Through her life and legacy, individuals can learn to find art in every element of their lives, allowing it to seep into every nook and cranny. “It opens minds; it opens eyes; it starts conversations; it connects us,” she says.
She reminds all that when we can lend a helping hand to the arts, we should do so, outreaching to those who might have inability to experience art in the way others can. “The arts provide ways of inspiring and provoking curiosity,” Jennifer remarks. “The arts provide an avenue for having difficult conversations without feeling someone is pointing a finger of blame,” she concludes.
Jennifer has performed in shows such as: Amen’s Corner, Cabaret, The Fantasticks, Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Colored Museum, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Dream Girls, Pretty Fire, How I Got Over, Divas and Gents and Her Story.
She has also directed: Mahalia, Fences, The Delany Sisters, and A Star Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hole in Heaven, Raisin in the Sun, The Ray Charles Revue, I Know the Secret, Second Hand Furniture Store, Bits and Pieces, and As I Stood at the Gate.