In 2012, a 14-year-old boy was shot and killed at a local carnival. The murder, thought by the police to be gang related was actually the result of an ongoing rivalry between two neighboring cities. In response to the child's death and the ongoing dialogue about violence in schools, we asked young people to help us write about the rivalries that exist in their everyday lives.
For 14 weeks, middle- and high-school students conducted "real" research. They collected the details of their own experiences along with those of law enforcement, social workers, gang affiliates and others whose lives were touched by the perpetrators of juvenile crime to compile an honest script that examines everyday acts of violence among teens.
Multiple stories revolve around Donte, whose father orchestrates violent acts against his mother and Charlie who bears the brunt of Donte's home life at school. This simple yet alarming glimpse inside the lives other young people taunted daily by emotional and physical assaults ends with "Talk Back" sessions for audience feedback and reflections.
African American Poetics nudges spoken word firmly into the structure of theater. Poets and actors honor the literary contributions of African American writers in scenes that move poetry through the generations and encourage the audience to reframe their memory of their original form. From Paul Laurence Dunbar to Talib Kweli, Poetics appreciates the writing genius that lives and lived among us.
The education curators at Weatherspoon Art Museum asked us to develop something creative with children to accompany Leonardo Drew's Existed. We took a group of our youngest performance students to view his large scale installations and had them respond to them while we took notes. The strange and arresting objects in Drew's work lends itself to introspection and expression of curiosities. At their direction, we found items that reminded them of the ones they saw in Drew's work and used them as props. The children's unguarded response and natural choreography gave us great material to apply to Charles Mingus' "Freedom" and Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Blacknuss." Their avant guard style punctuated a moving commentary on life, loss and rebirth all from a child's perspective.
Photos by Martin Tucker.
Haiti, the first black independent nation in the world is a place of mystery. It's culture is enriched by the people who inhabit it and the history is deeply moving, powerful and spirited. Yet the mention of its name evokes comments of fear or pity. The earthquake of 2010 that destroyed the physical structure of the country and changed the lives of millions unearthed some very negative reactions about the people who live there. In order to shift a media driven perception of a country of African descendants this performance was created to educate non-Haitians about a familiar history of political paradigms, to share a bit of its culture with people and create a space to dialogue about this nation of true survivors.
Survival Stories was written and produced to accompany The Gift of Life Block Walk, an annual breast cancer awareness event hosted by Sisters Network, Inc. During this event, women canvass a designated neighborhood to encourage and provide free clinical breast exams for uninsured women and to increase awareness of a disease that disproportionately affects African American women.
We asked if we could use this opportunity to explore the subject on stage and set about asking women to share their "C" stories (we call them "C" Stories because one of our contributors told us that during her process to healing, she refused to say the word). We all learned from their reluctance, fears, fortitude and attitudes about surviving and gave the patrons and volunteers a theatrical appreciation for their Gift of Life.
Maafa/Kuumba is intended to be an epic performance about the cultural landscape of the countries touched by African presence as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It honors the spirit of a people who were once traded and flogged on the shores of Brazil, Haiti, Cuba and America and reminds us of their creative influence on music, dance and folklore throughout the world. Maafa/Kuumba revisits the atrocities held within the collective psyche of the descendants of African people in these places and re-envisions them in context with the power of creativity.
In 2008, we were challenged by a parent who wanted us to train her daughter, but didn't want her exposed to hip hop music. As artists, we would neither discredit a canon of music nor our Gen X roots in the art form. We respectfully declined her request and simultaneously set out to make the point that the message in the music was lost during the media wars on hip hop that tried to overpower the voice of the culture. This exchange inspired a story told through the words and rhymes of three decades of hip hop music intended to honor the art and the people who lived it.
Photos by Bonnie Stanley
Black Lives Don't Matter is a play that represents the collective view and feelings after the deaths of many black lives due to police brutality. We made the creative call to our theater comrades to use the stage as we so often due to express the things that are deeply painful and difficult to express when emotions erupt. Black Lives is a catharsis, a way for the African American community to cleanse itself of the hurt it was experiencing in politically and racially charged times.