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Palaver Tree Theatre, a home for all walks of life in Wakulla County

Herb Donaldson at the Palaver Tree Theatre
Posted at 4:36 AM, Jun 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-13 12:18:32-04

WAKULLA COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — With a dream to give back to his hometown, one man built a stage in Wakulla County to tell the history and stories of the people who live there.

When Herb Donaldson turns on the stage lights, it's about more than just signaling the start of a show.

To him, this stage means bringing the arts to life in his hometown.

"Wakulla has been my home for pretty much my entire life," Donaldson said.

He's artistic director at the Palaver Tree Theatre.

His high school theatre teacher Susan Selbergs said his passion for performing started at a young age.

"We were rehearsing a play and he was going to ask if he can use the dressing rooms backstage to change into his track clothes because they didn't have dressing rooms out there," Selbergs said. "Then, I noticed he stayed a little longer."

Until Selbergs said one day he never left the stage.

Doanldson said he studied theatre in New York City for years, which is where he realized the power his voice had in the spotlight.

"We want to be artists who speak on behalf of the people in the community," Donaldson said.

This inspired him to start the Palaver Tree Theatre, which is based on an African tradition.

"In Africa, whenever a group of people wanted to get together, they would do it under the largest tree and that tree was called the Palaver Tree or the talking tree," Donaldson said.

Herb said whenever someone in the village didn't feel comfortable speaking, an artist would speak for them.

This vision is seen in every show, as the artist at Palaver Tree tells the stories for all people living in Wakulla County.

"Why do we go to theatre? If it's just to see something you're comfortable with, that's fine, but if you want to be stimulated, excited, educated, part of feeling the theatre experience, you have to go to something that stretches your boundaries," Local actor and director Jeff Mandel said.

For Herb, this theatre means home.

"If you have a place like this that embraces everyone, everybody is going to try to walk through this door at some time or point," Donaldson said. "This is a perfect meeting place for us to get back to knowing one another again."

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