COE Alum, Leader Takes Center Stage

August 29, 2014

Dr. JoAnne Hamrick CogginsAt the August 27 College of Education Scholarship Ceremony, longtime COE friend, alumnus and scholarship donor Dr. JoAnne Hamrick Coggins addressed the gathering on the importance of philanthropy. Such a talk could easily come across as dry and pedantic, but that was not the case here.

Coggins orchestrated a series of student “interruptions” where they jumped into the aisles to ask pointed questions about how the funds are used, why they are important, and other related matters. At the conclusion of her speech Coggins had these same volunteers re-enact the closing seconds of the 2013 Iron Bowl in dramatic fashion. As the crowd of 500 cheered, Coggins delivered her best line: “It only takes a second to donate to the College of Education!”

Although she came across as a steady stage pro, Coggins has never been on a stage outside of her college days as a member of the University Singers … that is, until now. Coggins has recently landed the role of “Aunt Cindy” in Robin Givens’ stage production of Joy in the Morning.

“About six weeks ago I got a call from a friend who asked me to audition for a play that was coming to Birmingham,” Coggins said. “The play was starring Robin Givens, a very successful stage and screen actress. I thought it sounded interesting so I auditioned with a few of my friends though I had never been in a theatrical performance. To my great surprise I made the chorus!”

Coggins was excited but expected the play date to come and go, with her role being far in the background. But after a few rehearsals, Givens asked Coggins to read for a more significant part in the play.

“Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to read for the part against three other local actresses, and I was given the part,” Coggins said. “It is a small but important role and includes a solo in addition to speaking lines. We rehearsed every night for our one-night show at the Dorothy Jemison Theater at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, which seats more than 500 people. To make a long story short, the performance sold out, a matinee was scheduled, and the Birmingham production was a huge hit.”

The play is based on a book by Givens’ mother, Ruth Givens. It is the tale of a woman who loses her faith in God after her husband dies and her subsequent journey through depression to reclaim her faith with the help of a wonderful psychiatrist who has issues of his own.

“Robin Givens is not only talented as an actress but also as a director,” Coggins said. “She was so patient with me and worked so hard to give me pointers and instructions. In my role as Aunt Cindy, I play an angel who appears in scenes primarily as flashbacks.  I am a Caucasian woman who raised an African-American boy who was deserted by his mother.  In the role, I am so proud that I raised this young man to be a successful psychiatrist with a deep sense of integrity and honesty.  There was a definite mother/child bond in our relationship.”

After a few rehearsals, Givens decided to expand Coggins’ role even more.

“The dialogue is wonderful and makes the audience laugh and cry,” Coggins said. “The music is also great and I had the opportunity to sing with some wonderful, talented, experienced actors.  The theme of love, faith and trust in God is something I can truly relate to.”

To top off her excitement, Coggins just received word that Givens wants her to join the other actors and re-play her role as Aunt Cindy in the next performance which will be in Sarasota, Florida in October.

“I am so excited but also humbled to be with so many talented people,” Coggins said. “The play is now considered in the production stage.  Robin and her mother, Ruth, will take this production to other cities as they continue to refine elements of the story with a final goal of getting it on the Broadway stage!”

Coggins is excited, but also introspective about all that has happened.

“Though this is a wonderful experience for me, I also believe that certain things are put in our lives not just for fun but to make a difference,” she said. “This talented group of people are steadfast in their beliefs and their message. I am blessed to have this opportunity.  All I can say is that it only takes a second to change your life!”

Story by George Littleton with Photo Contributed