My people, we have been through so much! We have repeatedly–through the years–had to deal with the murders of Black people, just because they were Black. Murders committed by racist White people and the police. Whenever these atrocities happen it affects us somewhere deep inside. We have also had to deal with racism throughout our lives–whether it was not getting treated fairly for a job opportunity or being a victim of abuse because of the color of our skin. Black people who have been killed due to being Black, have included mothers, fathers, grandparents and children. It is a pain we tend to bear alone, but that is not the only way to handle this anymore. Right now, BAM at the Fisher Theater at 321 Ashland Place, is giving our people a chance to confront how these deaths have impacted us through an interactive, moving, spiritual and healing production called “What to Send Up When it Goes Down,” written by Aleshea Harris’, with beautiful direction by Whitney White. BAM, and Playwrights Horizons in association with The Movement Theatre Company is bringing the healing!
The audience is invited to be part of a ritual and release your feelings. I don’t recall experiencing this at a production before. The show specifically focuses on Black people and building us up spiritually and emotionally and is unapologetic about its purpose. It is a deep experience.
When you enter the theater before the production and go downstairs, you are presented with large photos with soft-colored coverings displaying Black people who have been murdered. As I looked at the photos and read the names of each person, some names I knew and some I didn’t, what I noticed was the wide range: teenagers, young children, college students, high school graduates, members of the military. There were grandmothers, there were fathers, who now left behind a daughter with no dad. These were human beings with hopes and dreams that abruptly were stopped. There are black ribbons in a box, there for the audience to pin and wear in remembrances of these lives. An index and floorplan, showing where various people’s photos are displayed throughout the facility and on the outside of the building, gives you their name, and the location and date of their murder. There are flyers and cards with words about apology, respect, affection—quotes from bell hooks, Aaron Lazare, Assata Shakur, and Brianna Suslovic. There is an instructional flyer that tells you how to perform a ritual response to future tragedies. That is definitely a keeper.
After you have taken in all the photos and realize that you are there to recognize and honor the many who have been killed, you are invited to come upstairs, where you will participate in a ritual. The beginning of the ritual ceremony is very engrossing, but it is a necessary part of the process to begin to open up your mind to what is to come. The ritual gives you the opportunity to vent your strongest frustrations, hurt, and anger and do so in a safe space. A space that has been created by the playwright, director and cast to accommodate the release of feelings to assist our people in letting some of the pain come out, go up and acknowledging those that we have lost. This ritual helps the audience to say their names, lift your voices up and feel that relaxation come over you. You know that you are in a space created specifically for you to go through a healing process. When that part of the ritual is over, the company of actors performs a series of monologues and skits. The works are repeated three times, with somethings changing a bit. But, it is building up to a moment of truth. A moment of pain. A moment of release. The actors are completely committed to not only their roles, but assisting the audience in feeling this sense of being seen. The actors acknowledge the beauty, strength and fortitude of our people. The company, which plays multiple roles, includes Alana Raquel Bowers, Rachel Christopher, Ugo Chukwu, Kalyne Coleman, Javon Q. Minter and Beau Thom.
The scenarios in the script vent the racism in this country. The feeling of superiority that some White people display. The insensitivity that some White people have. It also shares the frustration that Black people have experienced on jobs, with feeling that they are not being treated with respect. It addresses the slave like mentality that some Black people have at times, that is not good for any of us.
One of the messages in this play is that we as a people have faced much, but we have also made it through. We are a loving, supportive people and we must know that we are worthy of that love, support and praise, just as any other race of people are. One of the things that the audience gets to do, which was a joy, is to write a positive note to our Black people. As you look around the entire theater, you see that the walls are covered with notes from past audience members. I know I haven’t given a lot of specific details. This production, this healing, is something you have to experience firsthand. Just go with it!
“What to Send Up When It Goes Down” will play through July 11, 2021. The experience starts at 7:30pm, but get there by 7pm so that you can see the exhibit of photos first and pick up the flyers and cards with empowering messages. For tickets visit BAM.org. Tickets are $25 and are sold in pairs. The production will be mounted at Playwrights Horizon in the fall.