Every year in, February the nation stops to listen as the President of the US takes to the congress floor to deliver his “State of the Union” address. He primarily addresses the balance between what has gone wrong and what has gone right in the US under his watch. Along the way he lays out his plans for what needs to be done to correct these issues. Over the years it has become a time where you see several “State Of..” events as individuals and organizations grapple with successes and failures while also looking ahead at how they can change.
On February 22nd the poetic troupe known as Pr3ss Play Poets took the stage to deliver their own state address. Theirs was of a much more complex nature as they delivered their (what I hope will be annual) State of Black Bodies. It was an extraordinary night filled with artistic voices lending their creativity to this thought provoking performance. The show used performance poetry as a vehicle to deconstruct everything from the senseless murders of black men to respectability politics, gender identity, growing up in the black church and the myth of the strong black woman. Every story was told with powerful depth and clarity as too address each one of the sicknesses that are currently affecting back bodies.
The members of Pr3ss Play (Audacious IAM, Uni Q Mical, Shampale Fenessa, and Chanel Timmons) took on the impossible task of creating brand new work that fit seamlessly together as they walked through these experience that are affecting our black communities. By doing so they showed that, while each story was different, they each connected by either contributing to the problems or being results of the problems. The goal was not to provide answers as these were huge, sometimes generation, ills that they were tackling. The task for Pr3ss Play was to put the mirror up and allow the audience to see these issues in a new way or seem themselves in the stories. So when Audacious IAM proclaimed that “black men are getting Emmett Till’ed in America” not only did we know exactly what she meant we reflected on those around us killed just for being black in America. When Uni Q Mical recalled her grandmother telling her “I didn’t raise you this way” you recalled when YOUR family member shamed you for not being how that wanted you to be. We all know the young lady that Shampale talked about that finds validation through Instagram likes and we all understand when Chanel talks about the less than Christ-like behavior that is often time displayed towards queer people in the black church.
This was a great show. Kudos must also be given to the guest artists Valerie Troutt and Micah Domingo whose music lent melody to the conscious flow and helped move the show along. It also gave a bit of uplift at a time where the audience may have had a lot of heavy emotions about the plight of black bodies. Ramona Webb also did an amazing job as the creative director bringing the vision of this collaborative project together. Pr3ess Play Productions is looking forward to taking this show on the road and I recommend this production as a must see as we continue to shed life and try to heal the wounds in our community.