Black Richmond youth turn personal #BlackLivesMatter stories into stage production at Art 180 this weekend
Since the tragic death of Michael Brown last summer the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter has taken social media activism to a whole new level. It has been used to organize protests, spread awareness, and to draw attention to a national issue. Now The Conciliation Project along with Art 180 have teamed up to let a group of teens tell the story from their perspective, and turn that story into a theatrical production.
The kids were given a large amount of artistic control over the project, even creating the content for the performance. For the first few days of the project, each participant was given a notebook and several writing prompts. From there they were allowed to write a story, a script, a song, whatever they wanted to create about the subject matter and how it related to their lives.
They compiled all of this and had to decide amongst themselves which pieces would best work in the live performance.
Deandre Quarles, 17, has always had passion for poetry and basketball. Through his participation in the #BlackLivesMatter production he found a new love, acting. “Its teaching me to get out of my comfort zone” he said – and now being an actor is something he thinks he may now want to pursue in the future.
Mallorie Greene, 14, spoke more like a seasoned director then a rising 9th grader. “Most people here have their own talent and we made sure that everyone’s talent would be shown in this play so that no one would feel forgotten about.” she said.
Both of them agreed that their favorite thing about this process was the full creative power that they were given.
However Quarles and Greene are fully aware of the weight that the subject matter the show carries.
At the end of the day, they are far more concerned with getting their message across then honing their acting skills.
“It’s hard for us to see it, but we see it, it’s blaring. [Black people] are dropping like flies boom, boom, boom. Every week now we see somebody dead,” said Quarles. Greene agreed, saying she was aware of the issues, but before #BlackLlivesMatter she had more of an out-of-sight-out-of-mind perspective.
Now, she sees things much differently.
“Black lives matter is deeper than we think it is. It doesn’t just have to do with black men and their lives it’s black women and their lives, black men with disabilities,” Said Greene. “and not just black people but lives in general. We need to support everyone but especially black lives because we have been falling through the cracks.”
They want to be clear though, they aren’t trying to be hostile in their message – they simply want to make their voices heard. Not through violence or hatred, they just want people to listen.
“We aren’t trying to send no threat we are trying to send a vision,” Quarles said.
The group worked tirelessly each day creating and rehearsing the show. Their pride in their work is obvious from the look they get when discussing the performance. However some of the older relatives of the cast have expressed a much less enthusiastic response.
“I have had backlash from older family members who have been there through the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and all of those riots and all of those marches,” said Greene. “and the original protesters that we are getting our influences from they are kind of like, it didn’t happen then I don’t think it’s gonna happen now. They are sad that we have to see this, all the stuff that they went through.”
It’s an understandable response when you see the same sad story play out time and time again. But with youth comes hope, and maybe kids like Quarles and Greene will finally be the ones to turn things around.
“This is a big ol’ world, but if we can hold on to faith then maybe, just maybe, something will change,” said Quarles.
The cast is bright eyed and full of anticipation about their big performance. They have worked long and hard to be able to speak out.
“All this work is gonna make a beautiful gift,” said Greene – it’s a performance not to be missed.
You can see #BlackLivesMatter at the Dogtown Dance Theatre for free on August 15th at 4:00 and 7:00.
Photos via photos are by Mark Strandquist through ART 180
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