By Patsy Isenberg
The Flint Repertory Theatre is joining 22 other theaters across the country today and Sunday, Oct. 24 and 25, in a virtual performance inspired by the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Black actors from around the country will present works they’ve created for the theatre in a virtual format in what they’re calling The Breath Project. Flint Repertory Theatre (The Rep) has partnered with The Breath Project. Two Flint artists, the one-named Harvey and David Guster, are among those featured.
Free tickets available – performances will be virtually archived
Free tickets are to the virtual performances are available here at this link. Virtual audience members may also make a donation to the performers. The works will be archived and available to view after the festival on The Breath Project website.
Instructions about how to see the performances and the Q & A session afterward will be sent to you via your email. Also at that site is an example of the works to be performed. The works will be archived and available to view after the festival on The Breath Project website.
Racial injustice theatrically illustrated
The project was formed by Artistic Director and co-Founder Gamal Abdel Chasten and Co-Founder, Marieke Gaboury, to theatrically illustrate the racial injustice that has risen in the country’s consciousness over the summer as a result of the murders of Breonna Taylor on March 13 and George Floyd on May 25.
Pandemic or no pandemic, people of all races felt the need to stand up for justice. The Breath Project come from Black actors who wrote them from their own experiences of racial injustice. The injustice spotlighted doesn’t always involve police, but society in general.
Chasten says “We received many inspiring submissions from around the country to be housed in our archive, and a third of those will be featured at the virtual festival. The range of works we received was vast, and included more traditional theatrical presentations and those that challenged the idea of what is theater in this moment of isolation.”
Local artists work featured in The Breath Project
Two Flint artists submitted works and were accepted by Chasten to be part of the festival. Harvey who has been in numerous productions here in Flint as well as Detroit and other parts of the country, will present her piece, “Breonna’s Prayer.” David Guster, also from Flint, will present “Nice to Meet You.”
Harvey was in The Rep’s “Wolves” and “The Chairs.” Both of these plays were at The Rep in the last year. Guster was part of the cast in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” which was the last play presented by The Rep before the COVID lock down. That play had to be cut short because of it.
Michael Lluberes, producing artistic director at The Rep, says “David Guster and Harvey have created strikingly original, surprising and potent pieces about their own experience. They are both powerful new voices for the American Theatre and we are grateful that we can help share their work with a national audience.”
The works submitted had to be 8 minutes and 46 seconds long. That is how long George Floyd was held under the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Floyd died as a result of Chauvin’s knee pushing on his neck.
Harvey said in an interview with April Baer on NPR’s Stateside that she was excited “to see what everybody could do in the 8 minutes and 46 seconds because it’s a long time, but it’s also a short time.”
Guster described his piece in that interview on NPR. He’s been studying theatre arts at UM – Flint and found he had to navigate with being a Black student at a predominantly white institution. He says he realized there were a lot of things that he’d have “to work harder for and always felt like, you know, it was due to my skin color.”
Guster explained that if he spoke about himself as he truly was and revealed things like his favorite food or what music he liked, he’d experience micro-aggressions and assumptions made of him, a kind of disapproval he senses.
He said he feels he has to debate with himself as to how he speaks of those things to either avoid the micro-aggression or just be himself. His piece illustrates how it might go in those situations and what he’d be thinking.
Harvey explains in the NPR interview about how she came to write “Breonna’s Prayer.” She mentions the “now I lay me down to sleep…” prayer taught to children. Taylor was shot and killed while she was sleeping.
Harvey says the monologue she wrote for Breonna was what she might have been thinking before she died, that it’s her “rallying cry before going into battle because unfortunately, if you live in America as a Black person, you are going into battle and just feel proud at the end of the day that you won.”
EVM Staff writer and reviewer Patsy Isenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.