Seven Capital Region theatre troupes will come together Tuesday night in a collective response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
For 8:46, the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York is teaming up with the Capital Repertory Theatre, Troy Foundry Theatre, and more to tackle everything from systemic racism to white fragility. Jean-Remy Monnay, founder and artistic director of the Black Theatre Troupe, says each company will perform a piece of their choice for eight minutes and 46 seconds – the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck, killing him.
As people continue to flood the streets to protest police brutality both nationally and locally, Monnay says 8:46 is his own way of speaking out.
"We're bringing it to you — it's your turn to do your part and go out there and reach out to your politicians and your family. You can have family who still don't get it about 'Black Lives Matter,' but by watching this you can go home and see the world in a different way," Monnay explains. "Because the world is changing and that's why we're doing this — to continue the fight and the movement that's going on right now."
Monnay says each group recorded their works separately, owing to COVID-19. The collective performance will air at 7 p.m. on the Black Theatre Troupe’s Facebook page, as well as on public access channels in Albany, Schenectady, and Troy.
Monnay says viewers can expect a range of performances. In The Nub of the Issue, his troupe takes audiences back to September 1987, when then-U.S. Senator Barbara Jordan fought against the controversial appointment of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.
"Barbara Jordan, she was a black politician. She was able to demonstrate why Bork is a poor choice in relation to civil rights," says Monnay. "Hers was the argument that eventually prevailed."
Other pieces steer toward the poetic: in The Eyez in the Wall, teaching group Acting with Aaron imagines what the murals of Floyd and other slain black people might say, if they could talk.
Gina-Simone Pemberton, with Park Playhouse, performs Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” in a scene from Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. And 8-year-old Moriah Edmunds takes the stage with Illuminate Theatre in what Monnay calls a heartbreaking example of how police brutality impacts children.
Michael Kennedy is the artistic director of Creative Action Unlimited. In her piece, Privilege, the company explores a number of seemingly simple, everyday tasks that also take eight minutes, 46 seconds – and how privilege drastically affects the options available to an individual.
“Are you somebody who buys stocks versus somebody who buys lottery tickets?" she notes. "It’s a piece that just sort of looks at all the different things that you could manage to accomplish in eight minutes and 46 seconds – or, you could be someone who makes a decision to kneel on the neck of a black person, and spend eight minutes and 46 seconds killing them."
While it’s certainly a night of reflection, Monnay says it’s also meant to be a night of action. Monnay says the Black Theatre Troupe will host a discussion on Zoom following the premiere. Money raised during the event (by texting BTTUNY to 41444) will help both the African American Cultural Center of the Capital Region, which is still recovering from vandalism and a destructive break-in earlier this month, and the show’s artists, whose work has been suspended by the coronavirus theatre-drought.
Monnay says the Capital Region theatre community has changed a lot since he first started the Black Theatre Troupe, then known as Soul Rebel Performance Troupe, in 2009. At the time, Monnay says he was one of just a few major black actors in the scene. Now, all of the groups in 8:46 frequently employ black artists both on-stage and behind the scenes. Still, Monnay says local theatre has a long way to go.
"If a play is not calling for a specific race, I think you should give different people — Hispanic, Asian, black — a chance to be part of it, instead of waiting to do A Raisin in the Sun to cast black actors," says Monnay. "Or if [a play has] a maid or a butler that is black, or a driver, [directors typically] cast a black actor for it...There's a zillion black plays you can do. It's time for change, it's time for something new."
8:46 debuts Tuesday at 7 p.m. on Facebook. The Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York is a nonprofit dedicated to performing dramatic works by and for people of color.