Nan is a cis white-ish actor/maker, an intersectional feminist, queer, and a major dweeb. She was going to include a more specific bit about her ethnicity or race but it got complicated.
Becca is a Native-Philadelphian-Egyptian-American-Queer-Intersectional maker, poet, and actor. Further ethnicity details also complicated.
Puka is a New England native Black(Kriola) director, playwright and dramaturg.
Becca: Always a great first question- What did you have in your pockets going in?
Nan: I recently met LaNeshe Miller-White, who runs it and was in the show, and I’ve worked with Walter DeShields before– this was my first Theatre in the X experience
Becca: This was also my first Theatre in the X experience.
Puka: I work with LaNeshe. And I saw Othello last year.
Becca: I work with Richard Bradford. I don’t know about y’all, but I felt at home, with family, the second I got there. The smell of food, the people, the costumes, even the torrential downpour outside. It was just the most Philly thing.
Puka: It was so homey! And Christina May, the MC was everyone’s fun cousin at the family reunion. She’s was a great palate cleanser between the weighty pieces.
Nan: It was an incredibly generous crowd for sure. I loved the real feeling of camaraderie and community, and the park setting that brought it all together. The rain was an amazing setting for that experience. It was like an additional set/sound piece through the first two pieces.
Puka: Yeah, I was totally terrified about the electrics, but that’s outdoor theatre for you.
Nan: Yeah, the rain could have really destroyed the experience but it ended up providing a really amazing backdrop by literally bringing everyone closer in together.
Puka: And the silence of our surroundings
Nan: It made for a really intimate experience.
Becca: I LOVE watching strangers stop and peer in. And the sound of kids playing in the background. Just a constant natural reminder of the importance of this company. Let’s talk about the first piece: Suzan Lori-Parks’ The New Black Math. I didn’t even know it was a play for like the first 5 minutes. Wow. Way to bring us in. Based actually off of an essay, I hear?
Nan: Was it an essay? That’s really interesting. I was thinking about the way it felt more like a piece of text that they brought to life dramatically in a majorly successful way, which was a challenge because it isn’t conversational prose as much as it is poetry. But director Andre G Brown energized it in a really exciting way from the first line.
Becca: And the physicality was so recognizable from growing up in Philly.
Puka: It was a great opener. It was fresh and relatable but readied our ears for the meatiness to follow.
Nan: It really did. I thought the order of the pieces was really great.
Puka: The second piece was an excerpt from The Meeting, by Jeff Stetson.
Puka: That was great.
Becca: It was insane.
Nan: I’m not sure how to start talking about it! Carlo Campbell’s performance as Malcolm X was ridiculously good. As was Walter DeShields’ Martin Luther King. What amazing performances.
Becca: Even Rich Bradford, who played the bodyguard, carried that weight. I think I held my breath.
Nan: They had the audience in the palms of their hands.
Becca: That text is so complex and yet there was a real unity in the room in the end. It got a standing ovation.
Nan: It was the only of the three pieces that didn’t break the fourth wall, but the audience was so vocal that it was like a conversation.
Puka: It was so refreshing to see Carlo Campbell have to focus himself in a character that we are familiar with. I felt like he’s always allowed to be explosively Carlo and this had so much restraint. I couldn’t breathe.
Nan: I’ve never seen Carlo’s work before but I could tell he was being very restrained, and that power kept everyone on the edges of their chairs.
Nan: And the two performers’ chemistry and dynamic was just tremendous.
Puka: But Costume note. After the 1st time they arm wrestle and the suit jackets come off, they should’ve stayed off until the exit. The putting back on and buttoning was distracting and felt forced. It should’ve only happened again for the last moment. It would have shown the progression of them warming up to each other. That’s my only critique. I thought it was fabulous, but as a director I wanted them to stop fussing with their clothes.
Nan: I do appreciate the effort put into the accuracy of the costumes, but it was distracting. I think it would have been less noticeable if we weren’t in the heat in the rain, though.
Becca: Yes, the costumes were beautiful.
Nan: I was curious if they were meant to be very evenly matched, because it seemed so clear to me that Malcolm X was “winning” until the very end. I think in retrospect it may have been commentary on how the argument for “violence” (which isn’t exactly what he was calling for but I’ll label the argument that way for the sake of discussion) is sometimes the more audible choice in that discussion. But I was curious about whether the audience was meant to be more won over by him than MLK, because our audience was so on his side. He also had some really great zinger lines in that direction.
Becca: Yes, but I think Martin has this ethereal energy: a godly man with peace on his side. As soon as he spoke- I didn’t feel like they were arguing or that Malcolm was winning. Just that they were two sides of the same coin.
Nan: You’re right, calling it winning is oversimplification. I guess I was curious about the intentions of the playwright/director/actors in terms of the audience’s journey.
Becca: I think the desire to be on the side of violence is just so powerful because we are all so angry! And then Martin comes in and shows this pure love, even the love of a child, and your heart drops and the whole wrestle starts over.
Nan: Yeah, absolutely. By the end of the play we aren’t meant to be on either side, I think. I wasn’t. But it was hard not to respond very strongly to what Malcolm was saying
Becca: Agreed. But I think that says more about where we are as a people than the script or even the direction.
Nan: Yeah. It was amazing how it brought out such a vocal response in the audience! The third piece was Love Queens, by Jamila Capitman and Heather Thomas.
Becca: We got the abridged version on the night we saw it because of the rain.
Puka: I wanted more. I found myself engaged with some of them and lost with others.
Becca: It’s a series of monologues so I think that they cut a bunch. There was supposed to be some other climax that was missing in this version. It ended up having multiple mini climaxes but no pinnacle. Some were so full and some were too short or too vague.
Nan: I’m really curious about how the piece came to be. It felt like a series of monologues that could have been written by the performers.
Becca: I agree! But it only credits 2 writers. But it does say curated!
Nan: I would have loved a little bit in the program that talks about the piece.
Becca: But overall, for an abridged piece it has a lot of meat! I’m excited how it unpacks. We need a black girl magic show please!
Puka: Black girl magic show happens every time I fluff out my afro.
Becca: You are a black girl magic show!
Becca: One last thing about Theatre in the X. There was a mentally handicapped man in the audience. I have seen other theatre companies react badly to loud responses, and comments from audience members and I was very moved by the welcoming in of this man by both the members of the company and the audience. That deserves notice. I would also like to recognize the encouragement of audience response on an overall level by Theatre in the X, which is a huge cultural barrier that prevents poc from entering theatres,under the guise of Theatre Etiquette/ Respectability Politics.
Puka: They are a necessity. They make theatre accessible. Period. They need to be uplifted encouraged and funded to bring theatre to all major parks in the city
Nan: Absolutely! It was so cool to see professional level theater in a park and with all the stuffy “theatre rules” stripped away.
Puka: The guy I bought with me to the show said he was shocked at the caliber of the actors. I picked his brain (audience development style) because he’s literally everyone’s dream target demographic non-artist working millennial. He said he would’ve easily paid up to $25
Becca: Free theatre is so important and I was so moved!
Nan: Agreed for sure. Here’s to Theatre in the X!