When I was invited to be a part of the OSF/One-Minute Play Festival's EVERY 28 HOURS I didn't know what I was getting into. I knew that it had been over a year since the fatal shooting - the murder - of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, but I hadn't followed the aftermath. Perhaps that was intentional, the not following. I didn't continue to follow any of the highly publicized cases - the Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin, Reikia Boyd, Sandra Bland, and on and on cases beyond what was forced onto me by radio or tv soundbites - nor did I seek out unpublicized cases initially. Perhaps I avoided them because of the trauma I remember from my youth after the acquittal of the officers that beat Rodney King and the L.A. Riots that followed. Or maybe it was the sober sting that came from the murder of Prince Jones and our inability to get the plain-clothes officer who shot him even put on leave, let alone make justice be served during my years as VP of the Howard University Student Association. So much pain. Perhaps, subconsciously, I reasoned, "Happiness is a choice, and I choose to embrace it as much as possible rather than accept the weight of all that pain"... which meant guarding my heart from those realities by staying removed. So, I have not marched, attended a rally, or anything like that. I intentionally kept my participation at the comfortable social media distance - re-posting information, "liking," things with an occasional comment and signing petitions with a click. I never felt completely good about that choice, but I made it, nonetheless.
So when I got word from Crossroads about Every 28 Hours I took it as a sign that I could be doing more. That I should be doing more... and the project provided a perfect place for me to give what I have to give - my talents, my skills, my time - to a community that could use them.
When I arrived in Saint Louis I was first taken by the sprawling nature of the city... the beautiful archietcture... and, of course, the familiar divides between the rich and everybody else. I was stricken by the extent of dilapidation and damage that was visible and never ending. Vacant houses and buildings boarded up, or just left there like open sores abounded -- seemingly moreso than Baltimore, more than Newark... a fellow artist said more than Detroit. So many homes, businesses and factories missing walls and bricks and windows, scanvenged by people whose opportunism knows no bounds. But, make no mistake, St. Louisans love their city. Just like Newarkers. Just like Detroiters. Just like Baltimorians. The ones who don't, and have the means leave, leave. Everyone else fights.
The organizers made efforts to have us engage the community on multiple levels. We were taken to Normandy High - Michael Brown's high school - to talk to students about their views on the murder, living in Ferguson and their education. We visited a university (Not Wash U) where a professor graciously educated us on the history of the area, and students spoke to us about their experiences. We ate at a bar-b-que spot. Some bar hopped to get a feel of night life and to engage the locals informally.
The Urban League set up a panel where we could hear from a sergeant and activists with boots on the ground. We listened. But I was still unclear to me what service we would be providing by writing and performing in one-minute plays. I felt little to no empathy from the first-person stories of combat and grief... just nothing. I asked myself, "What's wrong with you?" Then I thought, "These people seem to need real services - infrastructure, the establishment of grocery stores in the food deserts of the poorer communiities, etc." I thought I'd do better helping to put windows back in buidlings than it would writing a one-page play. But Jacqueline - one of the St. Louis producers clarified the purpose of our cohort for me. She took me in a corner and said, (paraphrased) "The people coming to see this show will be people who wouldn't come see ours. They are here because of the hype you all have created, because of the novelty of your foreignness. They are willing to listen to you...even if you're just saying things that we've been saying... expressing thoughts, needs, emotions that they won't/can't hear from us. We need you to speak on our behalf. So speak. Speak boldly. Say it all." Needless to say, that woman fired me up. I was completely anchored in purpose after that moment. Despite the myriad number of faux pas and administrative foibles of the event -- there were many and things unfortunately did get very messy - I believe that we all - producers, writers, actors, directors - met that purpose anyway. We pulled no punches. After the finale piece (which I wrote...yes, I'm proud) in the afternoon at the recreation center, one woman ran from her seat and openly sobbed with another woman in the threshhold of a door. I held them both.
In our prep sessions with One Minute Play Festival AD, Dominic, I posed a question to the group: "When was the last time your heart was changed?" When was the last time you consumed a piece of art that really changed your heart? 'Cause that's what we need. We've changed laws and policies over and over, but we've never addressed the hearts of wo/men so we re-create the same dynamics over and over. Racism finds a new way. But we were there precisely because we are artists -- we're in the business of cracking into and changing hearts with our art. I don't know if any were changed on Saturday. Maybe we were preaching to the choir. Maybe ears were closed. Maybe the moment was too soon. We get to count the audience, but we never get to really know our impact. I choose to believe that someone was touched... at the very least, I know from my own eyes, some of the local participants got a moment of catharsis out of the experience. Maybe that's enough. Perhaps that's plenty. There were some tears and sighs and clapping. At the very least, I think they appreciated our efforts.... I truly hope they did.
EVERY 28 HOURS FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/Every28HoursPlays
OSF PRESS RELEASE: https://www.osfashland.org/en/press-room/press-releases/every-28-hours.aspx
THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/24/theater/ferguson-events-reverberate-at-one-minute-play-festival.html?_r=0
NY TIMES: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/24/theater/ferguson-events-reverberate-at-one-minute-play-festival.html?_r=0
B'WAY WORLD CROSSROADS PARTICIPATION: http://www.broadwayworld.com/new-jersey/article/Crossroads-Theatre-Company-Takes-Part-in-EVERY-28-HOURS-Play-Festival-20151023
HOWL ROUND LIVESTREAM: http://howlround.com/livestreaming-the-every-28-hours-plays-new-one-minute-plays-inspired-by-the-black-lives-matter
ONE MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL: http://www.oneminuteplayfestival.com/2015/06/18/every-28-hours-a-national-call-to-action/
THE FERGUSON MOMENT: http://www.thefergusonmoment.com/p/every-28-hours.html
TCG ARTICLE: http://www.tcgcircle.org/2015/09/every-28-hours-one-minute-play-festival-phase-one-october-20-24-st-louis-county/