As you all know, I moved to Chapel Hill in December to teach at UNC and dramaturg at PlayMakers Rep. It was a big move ... quite daunting. In advance, I researched the theatre community in my new home and was invited to be a part of the Ladies of the Triangle Theatre. I was inspired by the conversation around gender parity and racial equity that was taking place, and was impressed to learn of the commitment to new play development and community engagement. And within three weeks, I found myself working with six extraordinary women--Kathryn Hunter-Williams, Monet Marshall, Jules Odendahl-James, Ana Radulesu, Jeri Lynn Schulke, Devra Thomas--to produce Hands Up: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments and create a performance-based, community response to critical questions regarding race, equity, and social justice. It all came together quickly and in true collaborative spirit.
From February 5th to 7th at 8:00pm each night, ArtsCenter Stage and Common Ground Theatre with the support of MOJOAA Performing Arts Company and in conjunction with the Ladies of the Triangle Theatre (LoTT) will present Hands Up: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments, a collection of monologues by African-American playwrights featuring a wide range of perspectives on being a black man in America in the 21st century. Each performance will be followed by an interactive post show discussion that will culminate in the collection of ideas and individuals across all spectrums of identity, profession, and location to create a new work to be performed in late June at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro. You can follow us at #LoTTRiseUp on Twitter.
Over the past couple of weeks, I connected with the amazing women to hear their thoughts on why this play was so important and the impact they hope it will have.
Thoughts from Devra Thomas
Common Ground Theatre--as implied by the name--is a venue where artists can come together, not only to try out new or rarely-seen work, but to produce work that is socially relevant to our community, for us all to find some common ground to discuss issues and contemplate solutions. Supporting that work is part and parcel of the theater's mission. Personally, from the LoTT perspective, this project is a great example of what the great Tina Fey said, "Say yes and figure it out afterward." Maybe if we all said "yes" to each other more, we wouldn't need testimonials like this.
Thoughts from Jeri Lynn Schulke
Racism is evident in tragic and painful ways in our communities. The accountability and responsibility to end racism rests with all members of our communities. Theater is a natural environment for members of a community to gather, share a common experience, examine our history, our present and envision our future. Theater artists to must provide opportunities for our community to gather, to exam, reflect, question, dream, hope and shape our common destiny.
Thoughts from Monet Marshall
This project is important because we, our community, our state, our country, needs to talk. And when successful, theatre can serve as a safe space to have hard conversations. Ultimately, I want action. I want HANDS UP to have an impact here in the Triangle. But I'm excited to spark and continue conversations.
Thoughts from Jules Odendahl-James
In the final monologue of HandsUP, Dennis A. Allen II challenges the limits of endurance both figuratively and literally. Literally, keeps his arms in the "Don't shoot" posture for the entirety of his speech. Figuratively, he demands that we try to understand the everyday life experiences for men of color in America today. Even men with some measure of privilege -- artistically, intellectually, economically -- feel unsafe in their own country. Too often this fear is magnified by encounters with those whose job it is to protect and serve but whose training carries a mass incarceration mindset where certain bodies are seen as objects of threat above all other understanding. Even in the face of pain and exhaustion, Allen's speaker refuses to quit. He may not be sure of the finish line but he will not abandon the race toward something better than this.
In that same way, I hope that the experience of HandsUP for the audience would be a similar test of our endurance. An opportunity to 'check-in' with ourselves about stories, bodies, and actions in our community. A chance to call out injustice without apology. And yet, there is another hope that beyond that naming, beyond the catharsis of telling stories of struggle, the HandsUP pieces can be a catalyst for us to work towards something better for our specific place and space here in the Triangle. To do that means we asks questions that go beyond these pieces. Whose voices don't we hear in these monologues that have similar experiences in our communities? What artistic forms should our responses take to state violence and institutionalized racism? How might the dialogue that emerges out of those forms influence specific social change in our communities? And how do we find a way to sustain these efforts beyond a few nights at the theater? Because while Ferguson might fade from memory, the conditions which made those events possible endure. And so must we.
Thoughts from Kathryn Hunter-Williams
The voices represented in the Hands Up monologue are part of creating change. It is time for our community to join the chorus for change and envision the world we’d like to live in. I am thrilled to be a part of this collective.
Thoughts from Ana Radulescu
This project is really important because it proves that the theater community is ready to respond. The fact that these artists are ready to start an inclusive conversation that does not necessarily promise answers, but does promise specific questions prooves to me just how important the medium of theater is. Not a lot of people outside this community know how or are ready to respond...but it is important that someone starts talking...and I think this project hands the microphone over to a person who is not only ready to share a story but it also hands the opportunity to a community who is ready to talk about its experience.
HANDS UP: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments
Written by Dennis Allen, Idris Goodwin, Glenn Gordon, Eric Holmes, Nathan James, and Nathan Yungerberg
Directed by Monet Noelle Marshall
Dramaturgy by Jules Odendahl-James and Jacqueline E. Lawton
Featuring Malcolm Evans, Kenny Lampkin, Jordan Marshall, Justin Peoples, CJ Suitt and Marcus Zollicoffer
Stage Manager: JaMeeka Holloway
Produced by ArtsCenter Stage
Plan Your Visit
What: HANDS UP: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments
When: February 5-7 at 8:00 pm
Where: Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd, Durham
RSVP: (919) 384-7817
Online Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/store/events/4916
*HANDS UP: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments is produced in association with the New Black Fest.
Hands Up in Rehearsal
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!