San Diego Repertory Theatre serves up second annual Black Voices Reading Series
The series seeks out work that serves a diverse range of Black stories and playwrights, creating opportunities for discussion around the issues questioned in the plays.
Last year’s inaugural event featured the play "The Great Khan" that is now onstage through March 27.
Darren Canady's 'Reparations'
Darren Canady has storytelling is in his genes.
"My dad was hilarious because what he used to say about my mom's side of the family, he'd say, 'Linda can't nobody in your family just tell a story? A story that would normally take two minutes for other people takes 20 years for your family,'" Canaday said. "That's how I grew up understanding what storytelling was. Storytelling was never for reporting just the facts ma'am."
Having something in your DNA is also at the core of his play "Reparations."
"It imagines a time in which we have developed a technology that allows people to access their blood memories," Canaday stated. "So the main character, Rory, takes up the state of Oklahoma on an offer that if you can use this new technology to prove that your ancestors were the victims of state-sponsored violence then the government of Oklahoma will provide reparations. The piece really explores Midwestern racial identity, and how legacy can actually be experienced in a visceral way, perhaps even written into our genes."
Rory’s grandmother shares her feelings in a scene where she tells her granddaughter: "Lemme learn you somethin': gettin' caught up in who all did what way back when is a losin' battle. Cuz for black folks like us, yesterday’s always a little bit darker than today. Whatever life you live, baby that’s the history you got."
Canady wanted his play to explore more than just intergenerational trauma.
"What does it look like to thrive? What does it look like to actually have not just trauma, but also have dreams passed down?" Canady asked.
The play "Reparations" employs elements of the cultural movement known as Afrofuturism.
"Afrofuturism, amongst the many things that it does, says that racialized reality and cultural specificity has a place in our imagination, and it has a place in how we view the future and that we need to think about cultural specificity in that way, particularly, obviously, Blackness," Canady explained. "I do think that that is something that 'Reparations' tries to engage in, if not really going straight at Afrofuturism it does meet up with this notion of saying our notion of temporality should be made complex. It's not linear. We loop back, we circle in and we zoom forward and we swing back, and we can touch in sort of spiritual and soul ways those things that maybe our ancestors touched and dreamed, and we might be carrying that with us. And what are we doing that might be carrying forward? That makes that temporal space sometimes messy, right? Yes. And sometimes traumatic. But also it gives us this way of swinging, like I said, swinging forward with some hope, with some optimism, and with some strength that I think sometimes gets obscured."
Marti Gobel's 'Food Day'
For playwright Marti Gobel, food is the DNA that ties one generation to the next. So the family dining room table provides the starting point for her play.
"'Food Day' is a play in five courses" Gobel said. "You have breakfast, lunch, appetizers, dinner, and a snack with the family as they talk about a big decision that is going to affect them all — that is — moving from the Midwest to San Francisco so that the mother can work with maximum security inmates and teach them how to cook. I really wanted the talking about food to lead to bigger universal truths on tasting, danger, understanding your palate, and on trying new things."
Trying new things is what the REP's Black Voices Reading Series is all about. For Gobel it provides an opportunity to fine tune her latest play.
"I'm kind of fascinated to watch what happens with my words and to know that there's hundreds of different ways to say the same thing. I tend to track where the humor works for myself and where actors get tongue tied on things," Gobel said.
"Actors in this reading are always giving you information, even when they are not explicitly thinking that they are, lines that they stumble over or lines where they perk up," Cannady said.
Canady perks up at the opportunity offered by the REP to bring marginalized voices and new work to the fore.
"Because that's how we keep theater alive, and that's how we make sure that live performance is speaking to our moment, speaking to audiences now and putting them in a place where they can speak across time and space, which is important," Canaday stated.
The readings will be like listening to a radio show for audiences because they will just be actors performing the lines without any props or production design. But that’s fine with Gobel.
"The best story is often just an actor speaking and engaging with a group of people," Gobel said.
But since her play was designed to have food being cooked on stage for the audience to taste and smell, she suggests that folks warm up some soup and make a grilled cheese sandwich before sitting down and listening to "Food Day."
Black Voices Reading Series was principally curated by Alexis Williams and Danielle Ward, with additional curation by Jasmine Brooks, Zack King, and Ahmed Dents.
The four-play readings will be presented live online on consecutive Mondays at 5:30 p.m. PDT beginning March 28. Post-show discussions will take place after each play.
Registration is required, and details of how to access the stream will be emailed.