Prior to the COVID pandemic, our country had been consistently struggling with racial injustice issues – seemingly random black men and women dying at the hands of police and laypeople, increasing outcroppings of emboldened white supremacists behaving as they do, and more white people being faced with the reality that there is something still VERY wrong in our society regarding how our system still seems pitted against people of color. Some continue to ignore and deflect, some look to find their place in the fight. I am one of the latter.
When George Floyd was murdered on May 25th, 2020 the country exploded with division, hurt, and denial. Friends of mine started posting their very traumatized feelings in narratives on Facebook and Instagram and I watched them like a hawk. Feeling very uncomfortable in my own skin because of the pain they were feeling, I became obsessed with sharing their stories – if I couldn’t write about it myself, I could CERTAINLY amplify their voices on my page. So I did.
On June 2, I was sitting in the dentist chair (with my dentists in a virtual hazmat suit) and my phone buzzed. It was an IM from an acquaintance of mine who I had connected with a couple of times in the past about my Thespian theatre kids (she was an alum of the high school) and running. Her message said, “Reaching out. I am crying between client calls. Please hold me in your thoughts. I have never been this scared, this vulnerable, as a person of color.”
Whenever someone reaches out in distress, no matter who they are, it is my instinct to make contact with them. I guess that’s the teacher in me. Always looking to help. So I responded, saying I’d get right back to her as soon as I was done with the dentist, which I did. We messaged back and forth for a while, exchanging thoughts, and I was desperately trying to be a useful ally. I mentioned something about how I understood that the responsibility to educate people about racism is not the responsibility of people of color, and that it lies in those who are not of color to share the stories of those in distress right now. And then she asked me a question. “Have you ever written your own play?”
The question rattled me, because the answer was a resounding “NO” – that I was a director and choreographer, but not a playwright.
But then, I started thinking – if the stories I’m sharing on my Facebook page could somehow be collected into one volume, maybe I could craft it into a theatrical piece. And maybe, I can produce said volume with my Thespians in the fall. The gears in my headspace started turning quickly.
Over the span of 2 weeks, I had collected stories from 24 people – former students, current students, college friends, colleagues – all people whose lives I had crossed paths with in some form or another. We had a first read-through on June 16th with some contributors as well as students of mine, to hear the words, time it out, and get feedback. Julie was on the Google Meet with us and read her excerpts aloud. I could feel my heart racing and my face flushing. This was something big.
After the read through, I asked for their thoughts. Everyone was quiet for a moment, processing what they had just experienced. Then, one of my students said that she believes that this piece will help her parents (who are Hispanic) understand exactly what is happening in our society and how she is feeling in the middle of it all. BOOM.
So, my Thespian project for the fall of 2020 is the production of my new work, How Do We Feel Right Now? It is a first-hand account of the visceral responses from people of color and their allies follow the murder of George Floyd. It is also a labor of love, intended to bring awareness and education to our community.
I’ll keep you posted about our progress, particularly as we navigate the reality that we may have to do this piece virtually. Stay tuned!!