The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt

Stories in the Soil by The Conciliation Project

Observations on a Research-based Performance by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Pre-recorded at the VCU’s ICA (Institute for Contemporary Art) and on location in Richmond; live-streamed on YouTube

Performance: Sunday, November 15, 2020 at 3:00 PM; available for a limited time thereafter (see link below)

Ticket Prices: free

Info: https://youtu.be/yrbIGTA0WYg

There is no getting around the fact that 2020 has been a most unusual year. It has brought unprecedented challenges to our arts. Yet, as history confirms, art always prevails. Theater and dance has found new ways to exist and mined new ways to create.

The Conciliation Project is a Richmond-based social justice theater company under the direction of Dr. Tawyna Pettiford-Wates (Professor of Graduate Pedagogy in Acting and Directing at Virginia Commonwealth University) and Dr. Ram Bhagat (educator, peace-builder, community healer, and co-founder of Drums No Guns). With heavyweights like these at the helm, it should come as no surprise that The Conciliation Project offers research-based programming that reveals, examines, and demands a response to racial stereotypes and racial injustice.

The script for “The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt” was developed from conversations with Richmonders, with a focus on the history-defining events of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial (in-)justice protests that resounded around the world in the weeks and months following the murder of George Floyd.

“The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt” is not a play in the traditional sense. It is reminiscent of Ntzoke Shange’s self-described “choreo-poems” or the eye-opening work I saw as a teen-ager at what was then the mecca of Brooklyn’s Black culture, The East. (For a description of The East, look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_East_(Brooklyn) and http://www.corenyc.org/omeka/items/show/320). In other words, this is work that exists to educate and enlighten as well as to entertain.

Conciliation: The process of winning over from a state of hostility or to gain the goodwill of. The building of bridges to connect two points that are distant, and/or disconnected from one another.

Among the topics presented by the voices in “The Common wealth & The Common debt” are the definition of the word “commonwealth,” diverse perspectives on the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia (the middle passage, slave markets, Jim Crow and other racial injustices), the value of Richmond monuments, the Civil War, racism, power, segregation, urban farming, and more. In one moving scene, Keaton Hillman has a conversation with an ancestor, Callie, a woman sold into slavery and later freed. “Help break the cage for someone else,” she says before returning to the ancestral plain. The next scene shows a group of protesters marching in cadence to “no justice, no peace.”

Against the backdrop of a chain link fence and passing traffic, masked performers sing, “We Wear the Mask.” Contemporary voices blend with traditional fables, history, and storytelling in a non-linear way that the modern western mind might struggle to comprehend. Experiencing “The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt” is a bit like being inside the production while watching it; similar to the way one might dream and awaken to wonder where the dream state ends and reality begins.

“I think we could definitely do a better job at creating monuments that glorify actual heroes instead of being used as an intimidation tactic, which is what they were originally put there for.”

The creative team organized a solid ensemble consisting of Calie Bain, Juliana Caycedo, Keaton O’Neal Hillman, Zakiyyah Jackson, Dylan Jones, Jamar Jones, Todd Patterson, and Mariea Terrell. The acting ensemble is supported by Drummers lead by Ram Bhagat and dancer Alfumega Enock. In a live post-performance discussion, we learned that the stories and interviews were collected by the Graduate Applied Theatre Class at VCU as well as members of the Ensemble, with support from the ICA. “The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt” should be accessible for the remainder of the week of November 15. Catch it, if you can.

INDIAN INK THEATRE COMPANY: Mrs. Krishnan is Throwing a Party!

INDIAN INK THEATRE COMPANY: You’re Invited to Mrs. Krishnan’s Party!

A Brief Preview of an Immersive Theatrical Experience by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Alice Jepson Theatre, Modlin Center for the Arts at University of Richmond, 453 Westhampton Way, Richmond, VA 23173

Performance: January 25, 2020 at 7:30pm & January 26, 2020 at 3:00pm

Ticket Prices: $40 General Admission; $32 Subscribers; $20 Students / SOLD OUT!

Info: (804) 289-8980 or modlin.richmond.edu

One of the problems, well, actually, the only problem, actually, with the Modlin Center for the Arts – which is a lovely space for dance, which is what I usually see when I go there – is that their productions are usually scheduled for just one or two performances or one or two evenings. So, as much as I want to tell you about Mrs. Krishnan’s Party, which is coming in January, I am sorry to have to start off by informing you that both shows are already sold out! (I asked if there is any possibility of additional shows being added, and I am awaiting a response.)

The Indian Ink Theatre Company, based in New Zealand, was touring in Seattle, WA when I spoke with Kalyani Nagarajan who plays the role of Mrs. Krishnan in this two-handed comedy. Mrs. Krishnan’s Party was “in the works” for seven years and now tours the world attempting to bring happiness –  and Indian culture – to audiences of all ages, genders, and ethnicities.

Mrs. Krishnan’s Party is a story about a “Mom and Pop” type store whose owner is looking to sell it. The story takes place in real time, “everything happens live” is the way Nagarajan explained it. There are two actors, Nagarajan and Justin Rogers. Nagarajan was very enthusiastic in describing the colorful nature of the play, not just in the costumes and set, but also in the culture, and even in the intergenerational characters: one is in her mid-50s, the other in his early 20’s. The “third character” is the audience.

As the story unfolds, secrets are revealed, and the audience becomes immersed in the action. Nagarajan was very specific in rejecting the word “interactive,” believing it might push some people away, but seemed comfortable with the idea of a cultural and theatrical immersion.  It’s about people going through familiar things. Set in the back room of Mrs. Krishnan’s store, the audience is invited to the party where they will “interact and talk with people you might never have talked with.” At the end of the show, Nagarajan wants the people dancing, singing, and laughing together. And eating! There is live cooking done onstage, and at the end the audience – excuse me, the invited guests – get to sample the meal. 

Mrs. Krishnan’s Party builds community, and the audience is urged to come ready to be surprised. “Come with an open heart,” Nagarajan urges, “and don’t eat too much dinner before-hand.”

Mrs. Krishnan’s Party, written by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis, combines acting, dancing, singing, music, cooking, and laughter. No two performances are the same. Even the ticketing for the show is varied. The Indian Ink Theatre Company’s website described five levels of tickets: (1) the Top Table or VIP seat at the table in the center of the room with first class treatment; (2) the Inner Circle, which is still close; (3) the Wall Flower, up high with a perfect view; (4) the Cheeky Seat, close but not too close; and (5) the Party Animal, which is no seat at all, but spot that allows you to move and dance. I hope to be able to report back detail if it’s as awesome as it sounds!

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Nimmy Santhosh & the Indian Ink Theatre Company website

 

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BROKEN BONE BATHTUB: Therapeutic Theater Richmond Remount

BROKEN BONE BATHTUB: An Immersive Experience

A Few Notes and Observations by Julinda D. Lewis

A Firehouse Theatre Fringe Production

At: Secret site-specific bathtub locations; the address will be revealed upon purchasing a ticket*

Performances: October 16-20, 2019

Ticket Price: $25

Info: (804) 355-2001, firehousetheatre.org or https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4357334

We often say or hear that a particular performance is totally unlike any other. Well, Broken Bone Bathtub is truly unlike any theater I have ever experienced. Based on Siobhan O’Loughlin’s real-life experience of a traumatic bike accident that left her with a broken left hand, Broken Bone Bathtub takes place in a bathtub in someone’s home. Each performance is hosted in a different home (dates and neighborhoods are listed below; addresses are emailed after you purchase a ticket, and attendees are required to sign a waiver).

Siobhan (and I am breaking with convention here and using her first name, because I spent a little more than an hour with her as she sat, covered only with bubbles, in a bathtub – so I think we are now on a first name basis), interacts with the audience, so each performance will be quite different; even the timing will vary, based on the participants’ responses. After helping Siobhan shampoo her hair, I don’t even feel it would be responsible to call these sentences a review.

Broken Bone Bathtub is the most intimate piece of theater I have ever experienced. One Sunday afternoon this past March I attended David London’s production – part history, part storytelling, part séance – Humbug, the Great P.T. Barnum Séance at the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design. The audience was limited to those who could fit around the custom-made séance table, with room for about 4 observers. In August, I attended Dante Piro’s one-man show, The Verge, in that same space. Piro’s play was limited to those who could fit around a conference table. Both of those shows – also produced by The Firehouse, under the artistic direction of Joel Bassin – were intimate, and performed before a limited audience. But both were performed in a public space – and both London and Piro kept their clothes on!

Make no mistake, Siobhan’s bathtub drama has form and structure, meaning and purpose. She recounts her bike accident in carefully segmented portions, interspersed with questions to the audience – the 6 or 7 people gathered in an average-sized bathroom, seated shoulder-to-shoulder, or knee-to-tub on stools of varying heights. Several helpers were enlisted to help her perform tasks one cannot do alone when one’s hand and wrist are encased in a plaster cast. Everyone participated in the dialog on Wednesday night, sharing personal experiences ranging from expressions of childhood jealousy to crying in public, from shared showers to the dimensions of personal space and the difficulty of asking for help when you really need it.

These are genuine topics, and participants offered authentic responses. One woman was brought to tears when a question – and her response – triggered a sensitive memory. There was lots of laughter and, from my vantage point, I could see Siobhan’s eyes welling up more than once. Broken Bone Bathtub is experimental theater, but it is also a healing experience, equal parts theater and therapy. First, the project was Siobhan’s personal journey to physical recovery. Second, it was a way for her to connect with others – who do you call on in time of need? And finally, it is a cathartic experience for the audience-participants who were surreptitiously encouraged to tap into their own feelings, fears, and personal experiences, in the guise of a theatrical performance. At the end, Siobhan concluded her story, weaving in bits and pieces of the shared experiences, including the names of the contributors. Make no mistake, Broken Bone Bathtub may be experimental theater, but it is not random; it is organized and smart. Broken Bone Bathtub is also warm, intimate, and ultimately it is a liberating experience that links the participants with an indelible bond of humanity.

 

*Note Performances and Locations for Broken Bone Bathtub:
Wed., Oct 16 @ 7pm, Richmond Fan District, NO PETS
Thurs., Oct 17 @ 7pm, Gum Spring/Goochland, YES PETS
Fri., Oct 18 @ 7pm + 9pm, Bonair, YES PETS
Sat., Oct 19 @ 7pm + 9pm, Glen Allen, NO PETS
Sun., Oct 20 @ 2pm + 4pm, Midlothian/River Downs, YES PETS

​Some of the locations have pets on the premises. Please be aware if you have allergies. If you are dangerously allergic to animals, we do not recommend purchasing tickets for those locations.

​Unfortunately, none of these venues are wheelchair accessible. If you live in Richmond and have any ideas about making the show happen in an accessible space, please reach out to hello@brokenbonebathtub.com.

By the Way: Siobhan is, indeed, naked in the bathtub, but keeps herself covered with a thick layer of bubbles. There were men and women present, and at no time was any part of the show sexual or suggestive. Broken Bone Bathtub is, in fact, quite suitable for audiences of all ages!

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Firehouse Theatre and Broken Bone Bathtub website

 

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