Ma’Sue Productions Reaches Higher and Takes African American Theatre to the Masses
by Josy Jones
Akron thrives on people who are not afraid to do. If you don’t see enough of what you want, create it. Once again, the resilient, hard-working edge in Akronite DNA has given birth to artists with the conviction to create what they think Akron is missing. This creation’s name is Ma’Sue Productions.
Ma’Sue is a theatre company created in 2011 out of “a hunger to see and do more African American traditional and original works in art performance.” John Dayo Aliya, an Akron-born poet, did not consider himself a playwright when he created the play that became Ma’Sue’s launching pad. At the time, John was contemplating the economic crisis and its effect on the African-American community. Those thoughts started as a voice, John says, and grew into characters, and overnight he had created a play: “Daybreak’s Children.”
“Daybreak’s Children” follows a modern-day African American family as they struggle with economic hardships, illness and unresolved past traumas in the midst of addiction. To mount this piece, Ma’Sue Productions began as a sister company to Heads Up Productions, now known as Wandering Aesthetics. In 2011, they produced “Daybreak’s Children” as a reading. Since then, they’d moved on to other things, but it always remained in John’s mind.
Fast-forward to 2017: Ma’Sue Productions wins a Knight Arts Challenge matching grant for $25,000. It’s a grant to produce an Akron tour of their powerful production, “Or Does it Explode?” This production explores race and identity in Akron using “stories from the city to examine black manhood through dance, poetry and rap.” It’s something every Akronite should experience.
Now Ma’Sue Productions is faced with the challenge of matching their Knight funding by October 29, 2018. So, how do you help? Attend their upcoming events.
Dayo Aliya never forgot the reading of his first Ma’Sue Production piece,“Daybreak’s Children,” so the company decided to put the production up on its feet. However, it’s not the same play it was before. The previous script dealt with the aftermath of the crack epidemic. John wanted to rewrite the piece to address the current epidemic: the heroin crisis. He wanted to further explore “what it means to be a community that is so vulnerable to addiction [and] the culture of drugs.”
In addition to their run of “Daybreak’s Children” in February, there will be a fundraising gala on March 23 at the Akron Civic Theatre. Come dressed in your gala best, and help them bring much needed representation and accessibility into the Akron theatre community. Come to either event (or both!) to help them get closer to matching their funds.
For Dayo Aliya, getting funding for the tour of “Or Does it Explode?” marks the beginning of “Black Akron’s” voice being heard. He hopes that it inspires African Americans in Akron and sends a message that art is accessible to the Black community. For the Ma’Sue Productions team, there have been many rewarding moments, from getting to have critical discussions with diverse audiences, to seeing actors grow.
This initiative has given him a new sense of hope for Akron. Once they’ve matched their grant, Dayo Aliya dreams of setting up a stage in the middle of Arlington Plaza — one of the areas in Akron that holds a sentimental place in his heart — for a production of “Or Does it Explode?”
“I’m very happy that Knight supported an African American company that wants to tell stories about urban America. It really says something about Knight [and] it really says something about Akron.”
February 8 – 10 at 8pm February 15 – 17 at 8pm
Additional matinee performances on February 11 & 17 at 2pm
Tickets are $15 Presale/$20 Door Balch Street Theatre 220 South Balch Street