Testing the bonds of brotherhood: ‘Into the Side of a Hill’ premieres at Flint Rep this weekend

By Canisha Bell

“Into the Side of a Hill,” a play about the bonds and bounds of fraternity brotherhood by nationally-acclaimed playwright James Anthony Tyler, will make its world premiere at the FIM Flint Repertory Theatre on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.

Developed during the Rep’s 2022 New Works Festival, the play follows six fraternity brothers as they rehearse for a homecoming step show. During their practice though, mental illness, toxic masculinity, and war bring the young men into battle with one another, and their brotherhood is tested.

In an interview with East Village Magazine, Tyler noted that while his play takes place 20 years ago in 2004, it parallels parts of today’s social and political climate.

“We have two prevalent wars raging right now, we’re in a presidential election cycle, and it was the same way in 2004. That same type of anxiety about the election was happening in 2004 at HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities]… and I thought it would be interesting for drama.”

Tyler, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.’s Delta Xi Chapter, said he wrote the play in response to the divergent beliefs he’d come to understand about such topics from his own experience.

“We are not a monolith. We all have various opinions about things that are going on in the world…I feel that it’s my responsibility as a playwright to show the full humanity of those who have opinions that are different from my own opinions,” he said.

The cast of ‘Into the Side of A Hill’ a play by James Anthony Tyler premiering at the FIM Flint Repertory Theatre on Feb. 2. 2024. (Photo courtesy FIM)

For Ken-Matt Martin, director and choreographer of “Into the Side of Hill,” the play also speaks to his personal experience.

“I’m from Little Rock, Arkansas, where there are three historically Black colleges and universities. Every year we went to homecoming games and … most of my family graduated from HBCUs,” explained Martin, himself a member of the Omega Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.. “I’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of opportunities in this industry to make plays and do things all over the country. This is the fist project that I’ve ever got to work on that’s reminiscent of a culture that I come from.”

Martin said he used to put step shows together for his own fraternity chapter, so it’s been really fun to marry those skills with directing and collaborating with his co-choreographer, Victor Musoni, “to bring this show to life.”

“This is the most comfortable and happiest I’ve ever been working on a play because it’s something I know like the back of my hand and what I grew up steeped in, even before my own collegiate years. And that’s really rare and exciting,” Martin said.

This fictional production of Tyler’s experiences as a HBCU student and Black greek letter organization member is more universal than one may think. You don’t have to be imbued in the culture to understand the message of the play.

Martin added that he felt Tyler had done a “brilliant job” capturing the reality of conversations and bonds among Black fraternity brothers, but in a way that is accessible even to those who don’t share that experience. “He’s done it in a really, really smart way where it’s in this container that I think anyone can relate to, there are entry points for everybody,” Martin said.

Tyler likened Martin’s statements to his experience with cultures outside of his own.

“One of my favorite filmmakers is Zhang Yimou, who’s a Chinese film maker,” Tyler said. “I’ve never been to a little village in China, but I get his films. They always touch my heart…We can have fulfilling experiences watching stories that are outside of our race. I always want to inspire conversation with my work.”

Tyler said he hopes Flint audiences will come out and laugh, cry, and enjoy the play’s choreography, but he also hopes they leave wanting to talk about its themes.

“Inspiring conversations is paramount,” he said.

Into the Side of the Hill will run from Feb. 2 to Feb. 18, and it is recommended for audiences high-school-aged and up. Genesee County residents receive a 30% discount on tickets, which can be purchased online or by calling 810-237-7333.

Additional activities are also taking place around the show. Following the Feb. 4 performance, attendees will have an opportunity to discuss the play with Tyler, and Flint native and current Moorehouse student Antonio Sweeny will be facilitating another discussion after the Feb. 10 show.

Further, a pre-show yoga session with local yoga instructor Terance Green can be added with tickets to performances on Feb. 8 and Feb 16.

Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

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