Ghosts wait for the secrets to be released in time.”
-- Alice Rayner, Ghosts: Death’s Double and the Phenomena of Theatre
"Moving like a bullet through time, Robert O’Hara’s Insurrection: Holding History traffics in spirits and ghosts to offer a wickedly witty romp through America’s history. A contemporary African-American graduate student confronts the specter of his 189-year-old great-great grandfather, as well as Nat Turner, the subject of his graduate school thesis on American slave insurrectionists. Engaging questions about who has the right to tell history and what kinds of stories get remembered and recorded, this challenging and provocative work has been hailed by Tony Kushner as “a gorgeous, fresh and vital play from a very exciting playwright.”
The panelists included director Isaiah Matthew Wooden and his wonderful cast: Omolade Wey, Demetrius Cooper, Allison Hilton, Danielle Lomas, Lisette Booty, Jacqueline Lawton, Isaiah Matthew Wooden, Isayah Phillips, CeeJay Hayes, Mersadies Burch, Walter Kelly, and Nehemiah Markos.
performing for the first time and a handful of them weren't even theatre majors. Those who weren't had been encouraged to audition by friends and spoke about how they fell in love with the play and their characters, and knew that they had to be in the play. They were enthusiastic to bring these characters to the stage and to share their history and culture with others.
When I returned home, I compared my notes from that previous production to this one and noticed the similarities. At that time, I asked:
- How do we capture and uplift the voices of those who are marginalized?
- Where is home when you've been stolen?
- How do you make a home on stolen land?
- What are you willing to fight and die for?
- Can any of us be free when even one of us is enslaved?
This time, I asked similar questions, but also meditated on a question that I'd been wrestling for a few weeks:
As an African American woman, I face a number of challenges, but enjoy certain freedom and independence because of the achievements, failures, struggles, and sacrifices of those who came before me. As an artist, I believe it is my responsibility to tell the stories of my ancestors and community. I believe this is the role of all artists. But how do we do this? How do we hold history, honor legacy, forgive sins of the past, and establish trust so that we can stay informed and work in solidarity toward progress?
The only answer I have is that we come together in dialogue with a willingness to listen and learn, and that we do so with patience, grace, and humility. This may not feel like action or progress, but I think it would begin the process of healing. And healing is what we truly need. The anger, guilt, and shame that plagues race relations in this country have held us back and fueled decades of violence. I imagine I'll keep coming back to this question ... but I hope to do so with better clarity.
For now, please enjoy these production photos and also excerpts from Isaiah Matthew Wooden's wonderful and insightful director's notes.
Powerfully, Insurrection blurs, blends, and bends time to imagine myriad histories that have gone unrecorded or unremarked. Ron uncovers all sorts of absented realities while maneuvering and attempting to manipulate the past in the play, including the presence of Hammet, a slave and deputy to Nat Turner who excites Ron’s romantic desires. Ron and Hammet’s romance recalls the ghosts of many queer relationships absented from the archive. Indeed, Insurrection queers the space of history by placing their same-sex desires center stage. Additionally, through experimentations with form, language, spectacular plotting, queer aesthetics, and a ludic engagement with time, the play theatricalizes the performativity of history itself. In so doing, it raises several important questions: notably, What ishistory? Who has the right to tell history? Who determines what kinds of stories get documented or recorded?"