Traveling performance portrays parenting from a different perspective
The art of hip-hop, poetry and acting joined forces on stage on October 2 in the play, “Word Becomes Flesh.”
The Main Theatre in the Redfern Arts Center welcomed the play onto Keene State College’s campus after Director of the Redfern Arts Center Shannon Mayers and Assistant Director of the Redfern Arts Center Sharon Fantl saw the piece while on a conference trip in New York City a few years ago.
Fantl said, “We saw the piece which was part of this festival called ‘Under The Radar’ and we both fell in love with it and felt it was very powerful.”
The play was written in the form of a narrative verse play. It was presented as a series of performed letters to ‘his’ unborn son throughout the mother’s nine months of pregnancy.
Incorporated into the piece were verses of poetry, dance and live music.
In all of the letters leading up to the birth of a son, the performers expressed how a single father is contemplating becoming a father, working through his feelings on becoming a father, his fears and whether to stay or even to flee.
This piece truly spoke genuine feelings of a young man’s mixed emotions about what to do before his son was born.
He did this for the sake of explaining to his son the hardships of being an African American boy himself.
Not only that, but knowing what he knows, while wanting to protect his son of what he has had to encounter in his life.
He does not want his son to fall under the stereotypical category of an inner city boy.
The actual play itself was originally created and performed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph as a solo piece with live music performed by Paris King, Sekou Gibson and Ajayi Jackson.
“Word Becomes Flesh” premiered in November 2003 at the Alice Arts Center in Oakland, California, and toured nationwide throughout the year of 2007.
For the National Performance Network’s 25th anniversary, the company chose “Word Becomes Flesh” for their ‘Re-Creation Initiative.’
It was then, “That within that process, Bamuthi Joseph then recreated it for five men and realized that there could be more that can be told within the story by having five men do it by making it seem more human and by having more than one person performing. You tend to see yourself more in the story,” Fantl said.
Bamuthi Joseph chose each of the members not by audition but, “They were personally selected by Bamuthi Joseph, and he chose them for a purpose and when they all came together they changed some of the material, rewrote and re-choreographed the piece,” Fantl said.
The five men who acted in Bamuthi Joseph’s play were Dahlak Brathwaite, Daveed Diggs, Khalil Anthony, Michael Wayne Turner III and B. Yung.
Each actor came with different experiences as well.
Brathwaite has performed on “Russell Simmons’ presents “Def Poetry Jam,” Diggs teaches rap and spoken word classes and Anthony is an Artist-Educator.
Turner is a poet and a model, and B. Yung appeared in the HBO Documentary “Brand New Voices.”
To bring this piece to KSC, Fantl and Mayers presented the idea to have this play do a New England tour (since there had yet to be a New England tour of this piece) to the presenters of New England.
This also included other university presenters such as Wesleyan University, Northeastern University and Univsersity of Massachusetts Amherst.
The colleges got together to work on a grant for the tour.
“The grant was funded by the Expeditions program of the New England Foundation for the Arts and additional support [came] from the six New England state arts agencies,” Fantl said.
After receiving the grants required, the play was set to perform last year, but it turned out that this piece fit better in the schedule for this semester.
Before the play began, Mayers entered on stage and said, “Please feel free to get up and dance, sing and clap along, this is an audience interactive play!”
With that being said, the audience did in fact, clap along, cheered and sang along to music such as, “Sorry Miss Jackson” by Outkast and “Versace” by Drake.
Every seat in the theatre was packed and when the performance was over, B. Yung said to the crowd, “Our DJ said only five people were going to show up, and you all proved him wrong.”
“What makes this piece special is although you don’t know anything about being a potential father, or an African American, the play can transcend all of that and anyone can find something that speaks to them within it,” Fantl said.
“Whether it’s just thoughts about carrying baggage and making decisions or to consider your own family in a different light, there’s something that’s really special in this piece and gets to certain things where others can’t,” Fantl concluded.
Deanna Caruso can be contacted at email@example.com