#25DaysFor25Years Week 2: Embodying Solidarity
One year ago today, we produced a live staged reading over Zoom of Suzanne Victoria Cross’s play Open Water, with a dance interpretation by Marcela Michelle.
Here are Suzanne’s reflections on what this piece meant at the time, and means to her today, one year later:
Over a year ago, Pangea World Theater commissioned every artist on staff to create work in response to the multiple pandemics surrounding us. One year ago today I presented my play “Open Water” as part of that commission. At the time, I felt disconnected from my body and frozen by fear– both as a caretaker for my vulnerable mother, fiercely protecting her from COVID-19, and as a Black woman watching the only home I've ever known burn.
After I heard Pangea was inviting the artists on staff to respond, the only response I had was to turn inward. I turned to a play I wrote ten years ago that had never been read out loud. I turned to how these words on the page were my way of screaming the real injustices committed upon me and those around me. Those words were my truth, and those truths were received with confusion and ignored time and time again. But one year ago today it was visible, it was on fire, it was in the streets, and it would not be ignored.
I decided I would respond. With only one week before Juneteenth 2020 I was reaching out to my friends; writers, dancers, stage managers, and facilitators to help me move past my paralyzing fear and create art. Pangea gave me the resources and platform to do that– and I will be forever grateful. One year ago today my play “Open Water” was read out loud by two incredible artists, Duck Washington and Kelsey Laurel and also interpreted in a movement piece by my dear friend, Marcela Michelle. I was in awe of how these artists stood for my work in such a powerful way. “Open Water” was an attempt to address the violent act of covert racism that is concealed in the fabric of our society… the acts of racism that still leave me breathless because I wasn’t expecting to feel subhuman today. For a moment, I forgot to worry about that.
I also know that words aren't enough. This lives in the body. Last year “Open Water” was my attempt to heal by inviting the community to go on an artistic exploration with me. To examine how many different art forms can express what goes through the mind and body when our language and security are ripped away through racist and violent acts. That was my intention. Now reflecting back, my only thoughts are those of gratitude that everyone who supported me last Juneteenth is still here. Still on this earth with me. Still breathing. I can't think or move past that. We in Black bodies know just how easily that could have not been the case. We know. We know the names of those we’ve lost. Juneteenth to me is the time I created and presented my solo written work for the first time. Juneteenth is when I was held by my community so tightly– the only way to move was through. Juneteenth is a memorial, Juneteenth is celebration of life and rebirth, a wedding, a ritual, a cook out and kick back. We are still here. We know the names of those we’ve lost. We say those names.
Here is a video from our longtime friend and collaborator, Carlton Turner. Carlton is partnering with Pangea to create the multi-disciplinary piece River Sols, which uses the relationship between Black and South Asian communities as a lens to deconstruct binary notions of race, as well as unearthing rich, buried histories between our two communities.
We challenge the reductive and harmful Black/White binary in conceptualizing race, while acknowledging that anti-Blackness is a global phenomenon that must be addressed and dismantled in every community. We honor and celebrate the diversity of Blackness from Mississippi to Minnesota and from the African continent to the global African diaspora.
Altar Honoring J. Otis Powell and Laurie Carlos, Día de Los Muertos 2019
Remembering Our Teachers
J. Otis Powell and Laurie Carlos, now ancestors, are two phenomenal African American artists who have blessed us with their artistry as well as their teaching. Though they have passed away, not a day goes by that we do not think of J. Otis and Laurie. It is a gift to have been able to collaborate with J. Otis and Laurie, and to have many memories of stories, laughter, and wisdom that they have imparted.
With every piece we present onstage now, we honor their legacy.
Here are some other shows we are remembering today…
By Dwight Hobbes
Cast: Damon James, André Samples and Constance Anderson
Directed by Dipankar Mukherjee
A new play by Dwight Hobbes, Shelter is a story of homelessness that depicts the everyday struggle of African American men to transcend their environment. Having fallen through the cracks of mainstream existence, Keith enters a shelter. He must survive a perilously unforgiving street environment to get back on his feet and remain a part of his young son's life.
Devised by Athol Fugard, John Kani & Winston Ntshona
Performed by Andre Samples & David Wiles
Directed by Dipankar Mukherjee
The Island, set in South Africa's notorious Robben Island maximum-security prison, is a tribute to men and women who were imprisoned there during the fight for a free and democratic country. Performed the world over, The Island is a powerful tale about two political prisoners who prepare to perform a two-person play of Sophocles' Antigone for other inmates and staff. Spiritually uplifting, funny and poignant, this award-winning play will make you believe in the power of art to transcend the highest prison walls.
Written & Directed by Laurie Carlos
Featuring Adlyn Carreras, Kenna Cottman, Roxane Wallace, Leah Nelson, PaviElle French, Jamila Anderson, Karen Abercrombie, and Mire Regulus
An American story of mothers, migration, and recipes for dancing. Moving up out of broken tears up through the laughing of remembrance flowing over in shifts, low moans of rage and silk hats.
LSA! At the Market: SPOOK
Written by Suzanne Victoria Cross & Ricardo Beaird
Performed by Marcela Michelle, Taz Song’Ony, Natavia Lewis, Kat Purcell
Spirits, science, and senses. We follow a dressmaker whose family questions the validity of her mirror-touch synesthesia (a rare condition where one sees someone being touched and feels that sensation). SPOOK is a ghost story that personifies the gifts and curses of black ancestry.
See more photos from this staged reading here!
Disease Called Freedom
Created & Performed by The Ways Ensemble
This multi-genre performance gets its provocative title from Wikipedia, via performance/spoken word artist J. Otis Powell!. “A Disease Called Freedom” is based on “drapetomania,” a psychiatric diagnosis coined in 1851 to pathologize the desire of slaves to flee captivity. The Ways Ensemble, a group of musicians, singers, dancers, and performance artists, developed the piece over a couple of years, working improvisationally like jazz musicians. They celebrate their diversity by weaving stories, images, music, and dance into a collective mythology.
The Ways Ensemble, a group of musicians, singers, dancers, and performance artists, developed the piece over a couple of years, working improvisationally like jazz musicians. They celebrate their diversity by weaving stories, images, music, and dance into a collective mythology. In addition to Powell!, the group includes musicians Tom Kanthak, Steve Hirsh, Rene Ford, and Michael O’Brien; singer Mankwe Ndosi; dancers Roxane Wallace and Kenna Sarge; storyteller Beverly Cottman; and photographer Bill Cottman.
Thank you for journeying with us as we continue our #25DaysFor25Years campaign.
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