There is a beauty about us… those of us who have committed ourselves to this… this global family who uses theatre to unearth the best and worst of ourselves; the tragedy of our deepest fears and the comedy of our truest joy.
Here, is where it happens, should happen; with folks that look like us, who don’t look like us, who believe what we believe, who oppose what we stand for; where we share the experience and the responsibility. We all have our own individual point of entry, we all accepted the call.
Point of entry: I was born of the Hip Hop Generation. A young street dancer, lit by the glowing lights of 42nd Street; and I wanted the world to see where I came from, witness the skills we had homegrown, challenge everyone to stop and witness us. An Usher, a black man, came out of the big Broadway theatre behind us one day and said, “yall wanna come in and see the show?”... He snuck us into the back row and told us to be quiet, and we were, because what do you do at that point of entry? I was a boy witnessing the beauty and power of my people on the grand stage. That black man whose name I’ll never know gave me the musical “Dreamgirls”... and I accepted the call.
Point of entry: Spanish Boleros and church choir were all I knew I loved. They said that my voice “tenía un gemir”, a sorrow about it, something guttural, tender and at the same time furious. But what to do with that? I was a girl from the project of New York City, possibilities were limited but every now and then, you get a teacher who braves her students on a school trip to a place unknown to them… a theatre. We didn’t know what would happen or if we even wanted to be there, but when the lights went out, we paused. The lights come up and we were no longer us, we were no longer together, yet we were. The musical was called “Mama I wanna Sing”. And as the girl on stage sang, her voice cried and said everything I wanted to say. And it was guttural and tender and furious, there was deep sorrow, but there was joy in it all. I heard a call, and I accepted.
When we see ourselves, our communities on stage, we are unstoppable, the possibilities endless, there are no borders, ponds or boundaries we dare not cross. We come from The South Bronx and The Lower East Side’s Alphabet City, but theatre invited us to the World… and we accepted.
In Valparaiso, Chile… we performed in a recently closed prison that was being converted to a performance cultural space. The space still had sections that weren’t touched. Our guide in the facility was an ex-inmate who still slept in his old cell and in the evening had to maintain the site and be a tour guide there.
He took us to his cell to show us his view of the world. It was his safe space, the place he knew for most of his life. How he would look to the moon to quiet his spirit at night. How it kept him… human. And he wanted to share that with us.
And how special and sacred the conversation felt. Later on that night, 10 minutes into our performance, the power went out in Valparaiso, as it often did in the projects of New York City, and we accepted the call to proceed in the dark.
And since we were unaware of the full extent of the blackout, we kept performing, until people began to bring candles to the front of the stage, a glow that helped enhance the mood, and we kept performing. And most of the audience, non-English speaking, took an artistic spiritual journey with us. We were all there alone and together…
having this moment that only the people in the room could explain. We were there, in a space that held pain and despair. In this makeshift theatre, we connected in our light, in that way that transcends, in the way that we as human beings, art practitioners look for.
We have had the privilege to teach and learn, give and receive from our theatre family across the world. And if and when we question the call, we look to those shared moments; from Poland to Chile, Colombia, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Romania, and the U.K., where we visited schools, where the eyes of the kids looked like eyes we have seen before.
Where we sat with women and their children who hosted us in secret to share their writing, lest their husbands find them out. Something as simple as sharing poetry and monologues and food and song, was dangerous but worth the risk. This is where theatre plays the part… it teaches us and continuously reminds us that we are as different as we are the same, and it’s as dangerous as it is simple.
In Khartoum, Sudan, during the Al-Bugga International Theatre Festival, after each performance, critics, artists, audience and community exit the theatre and enter a tent just outside the wall; where they come together to immediately discuss the work they just witnessed. An exciting exchange of ideas and investment to say the least. Imagine if after every American Theatre performance we all moved to the next room to discuss, debate, explain, challenge, provoke and uplift what we just saw, with the artist and the critic in the midst of it all. Wouldn’t that be something? There, in The Sudan, under a simple tent, it was.
Our company, UNIVERSES, went there representing the United States, at the core… we went there representing the block. There, we dined with Egypt and Nigeria. Sounds fancy, doesn’t it? But we were all from poor communities and moved in comfort.
We found a small quaint cafe by the side of The Nile River, and we sat and stumbled through words and laughed and danced and sang and shared stories the way people who feel comfortable with each other do; as if we’d know each other forever. We sat by the Nile River, simply counting to ten in native tongues from Nigeria, The Philippines, North Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas.
And even the numbers sounded guttural and tender and furious, with moments of deep sorrow, but there was joy most of all. All of us theatre folks, and even the van drivers, brought together by theatre. And something so simple, so basic as counting from one to ten, this simple act, brought deep smiles and tears to folks who felt a kinship, an honor to share it with other like-minded folks.
We do this… because there is work to be done; because our worlds are threatened and in despair.
Because time and time again, artists have stood and stand at the frontlines, fighting for truth and justice immovable by any threat of war.
There are stories needing to be told, stories looking to be understood. They are as local as they are global…
as complicated and as simple as counting from one to ten in any language.
The revolution is Live and OnStage,
and we answer the call.
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