TROY – “8:46” is the title of seven short pieces of theater that will be digitally available at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 30.
If the numbers in the title sound familiar, it is the length of time a police officer put his leg on George Floyd’s neck, causing his death. The act was so brutal and uncalled for, people have not been able to clearly articulate their disgust and horror about the despicable deed.
Jean-Remy Monnay, the founder and artistic director of Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate N.Y., understands that frustration. He realizes the public’s rage is not only about this single issue. As a Black man, he knows Floyd’s death is a visible signal of an unfair, unjust, yet complicated, relationship between the races within our country.
Being a theater artist and not being able to fully articulate his feelings of hurt, fear and despair only made his frustration deeper.
To better help define what this act represented, his company created a theater piece about systemic racism. He then asked six other area companies to do the same. Remy said he reached out to local theater companies who typically produce plays about Black issues and regularly use African-American actors.
The major requirement was – for obvious and symbolic reasons - each piece would run approximately 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The pieces are all thoughtful and articulate mini-dramas that represent the many and various facets of the problem. Remarkably, none are angry or a call for violence.
Telling personal stories is, he says, the kind of thing theater does best. Agreeing with him is Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, the Producing Artistic Director of Capital Repertory Theatre. She says, “The arts, especially theater, has the capacity to incite, to excite and also to heal. ‘8:46’ is a chance for the arts community to lead by example.”
The participating companies are Acting with Aaron, Capital Repertory Theatre, Creative Action Unlimited, Illuminate Theatre, Troy Foundry Theatre and Playhouse Stage Company. The Black Acting Troupe of Upstate, N.Y. is the point company in the cooperative project. On Tuesday, Remy will be the person introducing each play.
There will be a plea for donations with everything raised going to The African-American Cultural Center of the Capital Region. The organization’s site has been a target of vandalism the past couple of weeks. Between performances information on how to donate and background on the funded organization will be offered.
Remy was impressed with the variety of ways the various theater artists responded.
The Capital Repertory Theatre offering, “Night Vision,” by Dominique Morisseau is about a couple who witness a mugging of a woman by a man in a hooded sweatshirt. Back in their apartment, as they prepare to call the police, they disagree on the details of what they just saw. What makes the tale sadly pertinent is the piece was originally written in response to the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Some things, it seems, never change.
There is also a monologue and a song from Playhouse Stage’s recent production of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grille.” It features the tragic blues singer Billie Holiday, singing “Strange Fruit’. The “Strange Fruit” of the title were black men who were lynched and hung from trees in the 30s. It was banned from many radio stations and crushed the career of the black singer.
The other five works are all original and were produced for “8:46”
The Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate, N.Y. is presenting, “The Nub of the Issue.” It was written by local theater veteran Barbara Howard and uses remarks made in 1987 by Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan during the confirmation hearings of Robert Bork for Supreme Court Justice. Almost thirty years later, Jordan’s vision seems prophetic.
When the plays are seen as a whole, Remy makes the observation, “They are all different stories, dealing with different sides of the issue, but they all are really about systemic racism.”
That may be true. But there is one piece that will force the audience to see and feel the problems of racist violence in a purely emotional way. “8 Ways to Say Goodbye,” is Illuminate Theatre’s contribution to the program. It is told from the perspective of an 8-year old girl talking on a cell phone. She has just lost her father to police brutality. Eight year old actress Moriah Edmunds, spends eight minutes trying to explain and accept the murder of her father.
What promises to make the piece so touching is the play is drawn on the memory of playwright Morgan Elizabeth’s father, who would give her 8-second hugs and explain, they were “just long enough to feel the love.”
The seven plays in “8:46” are just long enough to feel the love, experience the pain and offer a hope for change.
“8:46” will be offered online at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 30. Go to the Facebook page of the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate, NY and go to the link offered shortly before the presentation is scheduled to start. It is also
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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