Connect with us


Gaillard Center Announces “Finding Freedom: The Journey of Robert Smalls”



The Charleston Gaillard Center today announced details for its world premiere of Finding Freedom: The Journey of Robert Smalls written by Teralyn Reiter, the performing arts center’s first theatrical commission which will be performed in Charleston this October. Combining music, media, and movement, the new work tells the story of South Carolinian Robert Smalls, a formerly enslaved man who engineered a daring sea-escape during the Civil War and spent the rest of his life—including five terms serving in the U.S. House of Representatives—working for equality in the postwar South. 

“The Charleston Gaillard Center has made it our mission to convene, elevate, and reflect the voices and issues that matter most to our community and resonate across the region and nationally through the arts, and we are excited to work with the tremendous all-Southern creative team to recognize and honor Robert Smalls—a true hero who didn’t let anything stand in his way as he dedicated his life to fighting for equality,” said Lissa Frenkel, CEO of the Charleston Gaillard Center. “Because his story is not widely taught, I am particularly excited that Finding Freedom will introduce Robert Smalls to thousands of students from across the Lowcountry, offering a role model and inspiration for them to find their own voices and find their own ways to make a difference within their communities.”

Commissioned and produced by the Gaillard Center, Finding Freedom is being developed by an all-Southern creative team anchored by award-winning director JaMeeka Holloway and written by Teralyn Reiter, with musical direction by Grammy Award-winning artist Charlton Singleton. They are joined by Broadway and regional theater lighting designer, professor and theatrical consultant Kathy A. Perkins, and a cross-generational group of theater artists including Tristan André Parks (Movement Director), Brandi Alexander (Scenic Design), Celeste Jennings (Costume Design), Joseph Amodei (Media Design), and author, professor and historian Damon Fordham (Historian/Dramaturge). Full casting will be announced at a later date.

“In Finding Freedom, we get to illuminate this underappreciated history and center Robert Smalls’ enormous feats and the trajectory of his life in rich and compelling ways,” said JaMeeka Holloway. “The work is being realized by a group of amazing collaborators from the South who can authenticate the Southern lived experience. Students and families will immediately recognize the sights, sounds, and feel of the Lowcountry and Smalls’ Gullah heritage, even though this story began more than 150 years ago.”

Finding Freedom tells of the early years of Robert Smalls’ life enslaved in Beaufort, learning the land, waters, and Gullah traditions of his mother and his daring and heroic commandeering of the Confederate USS Planter where he was a deckhand during the Civil War. On May 13, 1862, he successfully commandeered the ship and steered it into the Union Blockade off the coast of Charleston Harbor, freeing the crew and offering the ship to the Union. He then traveled to Washington to persuade President Lincoln to accept Black men into the Union Army and subsequently served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he passed legislation for the creation of the public school system in South Carolina, which later became the model for the nation.

This production is the first show in a larger pilot program the Gaillard Center is launching that will develop and distribute new family theatrical productions that highlight Southern stories often missing from the state curriculum, present productions across the Southeast with the goal of touring nationally, and further provide a home for local and regional untold stories on the Gaillard Center’s stage.


  • Friday, October 6th, 2023 at 7:30 pm
  • Saturday, October 7th, 2023 at 2 pm

Tickets go on sale Friday, May 19th at 11 am.

Follow Us

Subscribe to HCS




HCS Sponsors



CHS Tour


Holy City Sinner