by Josy Jones
The Black Lives Matter movement, to many, feels new and shocking. To others, it’s a turbulent new chapter in a never-ending story. For years, Black people have voiced concerns and frustration with racism in their lives through music, in cinema and through the platforms of its leadership.
Now, with a camera in everyone’s pocket, Black people are showing the world video evidence of the treatment they’ve long suffered. The footage and knowledge of George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s murders have served as sparks that have reignited national outrage at the treatment of Black lives in this country. For some, the spark jolted them to the streets for protest. For others, like the Millennial Theatre Project, it was a call to use their artistic platform to respond to the movement.
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For Francine Parr, Artistic Director of the Millennial Theatre Project (MTP), the push to create a new play came from seeing footage of a theater colleague, Jamal Singleton, trying to talk to local police officers at a protest to get them to understand the concern he has for the life of his son, who is three months old. In Francine’s recollection, Jamal had gone to school with some of the officers and was calling them out by name, and it upset her that “his voice is not being heard” in the footage.
“So many people want this changed,” she laments. “Why isn’t it happening?”
In an effort to make sure people are being heard, she told her father Howard Parr, Executive Director of the Akron Civic Theatre, that she wanted to create a piece inspired by “The Vagina Monologues,” a play that is a series of testimonies from women about “aspects of the feminine experience.” Instead, however, she wanted to focus on racial inequality.
Francine sought out Maya Nicholson as a collaborator. Maya, who has directed and acted for MTP, is vocal about her alignment with the Black Lives Matter movement. “In the Black community we talk about generational curses,” says Maya. “This weighs heavy on my heart because we’ve been trying to break this curse and it won’t budge.”
The pair began collecting online testimonials from people from all walks of life in Akron and decided to call the piece “Say it Loud!” The title, a nod to Black culture and history, also serves as a rallying cry for participants to “voice what you have to say loud enough for everyone to hear.”
Some of the stories the team has collected are positive, like a civilian’s interaction with a police officer who was trying to warn them about a blown tail light. In the testimony, the officer acknowledged the fear of police with empathy, saying “ I don’t want you to be afraid.” It meant a lot to the person sharing.
The team acknowledges, however, that not only Black are people sharing their thoughts, feelings and experiences. They are receiving “more Caucasian responses than Black,” and one in particular was eye opening: An anonymous entry from a 60+ old white male told them that people who are bothered by this “need to suck it up and get over it.”
“It’s important to show that viewpoint still exists,” says Francine, acknowledging the prevalence of racism in America and in our own community.
Both team members referred to the project as “eye opening” and are enthusiastic about creating the new piece. Maya says that this is an opportunity to spark “conversation in our community and keep the conversation going.”
“This system is built the way it’s supposed to be built,” Maya says. “It’s a well-oiled machine.” She feels that with this project and continued conversation around racism, this generation has the opportunity to “tear down the broken system and build one of our own… We are trying to break these generational curses by any way we know how.”
The Millennial Theatre Project team is creating an hour-long show and are hoping to open “Say it Loud!” in August. They are currently working with the city to potentially host it in Lock 4. However, they have not set a date yet. There will be limited in-person tickets and the event will be available as a livestream. Political leaders and ministry leaders will also speak at the event.
They encourage anyone who is interested to participate in the survey.
Check out Millennial Theatre Company’s “Say it Loud!” hosted through the Akron Civic’s “Live Virtually”on the Akron Civic Theatre website (AkronCivic.com).
Visit www.facebook.com/millennialtheatreproject to participate in the survey.
Josy Jones is an actor, director, playwright and community builder in Akron, OH.