fbpx

A CALL TO ACTION

Dear viewers,

We need you to share in the heavy lifting of this demolition project. We do not share these works or pose these questions as a way to make you feel guilty or to shame you. That is not their intention. Think of them as tools for you to begin to measure where you are and how you might move into ACTION.

 

ABOUT "Strange Fruit"

Are you outraged? Are you mad, angry? You should be. Not just about the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, whose names currently dominate the headlines, but also because of the long list of named and unnamed Black people abused and murdered that came before them. While we can’t possibly know all on the list, we do know the systems that perpetuated these crimes against Black humanity – slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and White supremacy. These systems are historically how racism and White supremacy has strategically sought to dominate and annihilate Black people. 

This week Spectrum Dance Theater shares Strange Fruit, my response to the horrific act lynching, the preferred method of extra-judicial murder of Black people from 1877 to 1950 (at its height) and beyond (the lynching of Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama on March 21, 1981, was one of the last reported lynchings in the United States). This is history that is necessary to know, to remember, not to be obscured or lost. This is especially true for White people who insist on asking, “why can’t you just get over it?”. No comment…

My questions for the viewers of Strange Fruit, as a tool to get us closer to meaningful ACTIONs, are:

  • Do you have any previous knowledge of lynching and its history? 
  • While you cannot undo the past, is there something you can DO, ought to DO, must DO now to end what I consider the current lynching – murders of unarmed Black people by the police? 
  • Can you see disparities in Economics, Health-care, Education, and Housing as a kind of lynching, or at least a knee on the neck of Black folk? What can you DO to eradicate these disparities? 
  • If you know this history and the long list of historical transgressions against Black people, are you outraged enough to take action, to DO something? If so, DO IT.

[I flashed on Emmitt Till’s and Trayvon Martin’s mothers and all the Black mothers who bore the pain of childbirth who must also endure the pain of burying their child. I am outraged.]

-Donald Byrd

 

World Premiere: April 25, 2019, Washington Hall in Seattle, WA

Strange Fruit draws its title from the 1937 poem and song of the same name by Abel Meeropol and made famous by the great jazz singer Billie Holiday. The song makes the metaphor of the swinging body of the lynching victim and fruit hanging from a tree. 

The impetus for this world premiere work is lynching and its usage as a tool of racial terrorism during the Jim Crow Era. 

Lynching emerged as a vicious and horrific tool of racial control in the South after Reconstruction as a way to reestablish white supremacy and suppress black civil rights. While there were more than 4,075 documented racial terror lynchings of African Americans in southern states between 1877 and 1950, most white Americans and young African Americans have very little to no knowledge of this brutal campaign of racial violence. For this dance/theater work, the facts of lynching act as a springboard into an interior space, a state of mind. Strange Fruit tracks my feelings as a response to these acts of terror and plays out as a series of dance/theater vignettes. The piece is abstract but informed by the reality of these brutal acts of violence and terrorism. 

CHOREOGRAPHY & DIRECTION
Donald Byrd

ASSISTANT TO THE CHOREOGRAPHER
Paul Giarratano

SCENIC DESIGN
Jack Mehler

LIGHTING DESIGN
Sara Torres

PROJECTION DESIGN
Travis Mouffe

SOUND DESIGN
Robertson Witmer

COSTUME DESIGN
Doris Black

STAGE MANAGER
Sara Torres

CAST
Mikhail Calliste, Michele Dooley, Blair Jolly Elliot, Marco Farroni, Hutch Hagendorf, Marte Osiris Madera, Nia-Amina Minor, Emily Pihlaja, Andrew Pontius, Fausto Rivera, Olivia Schmid (Apprentice), Mary Sigward, Jaclyn Wheatley

LIVE MUSIC
Performed by: Josephine Howell

Dr. Watts Prayer
Low Down Death Right Easy
Gotta Find my Way Back Home
Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down
Soon I Will be Done
My Soul is a Witness 

MUSIC
Album: Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 2
Dead and Gone
Performed by: Dock Reed & Vera Hall

Low Down Death Right Easy
Performed by: Dock Reed

Both recorded in central and western Alabama in January and February 1950.

Album:  Negro Religious Field Recordings from Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Vol. 1 1934-1942
Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down
Performed by: Bozie Sturdivant & Silent Grove Baptist Church

I Feel Like Dyin’ In This Army
Performed by: Austin Coleman with Joe Washington Brown and Group

My Soul Is A Witness
Performed by: Austin Coleman with Joe Washington Brown and Group

I Got a Hiding Place
Performed by: Congregation of the Church of God in Christ

All recorded in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee between 1934-1942.

Music Acknowledgements
Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 2 © Folkways Records.
Negro Religious Field Recordings from Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Vol. 1 1934-1942 © Document Records.

"Strange Fruit" Viewer's Guide

To the viewers of Strange Fruit, we pose the following questions as a tool to get us closer to meaningful ACTIONS:

  • Do you have any previous knowledge of lynching and its history?
  • While you cannot undo the past, is there something you can DO, ought to DO, must DO now to end what I consider the current lynching – murders of unarmed Black people by the police?
  • Can you see disparities in Economics, Health-care, Education, and Housing as a kind of lynching, or at least a knee on the neck of Black folk? What can you DO to eradicate these disparities?
  • If you know this history and the long list of historical transgressions against Black people, are you outraged enough to take action, to DO something? If so, DO IT.
ABOUT "SHOT"

Where to begin? George Floyd, a 49-year-old Black man is on the ground outside of Cup Foods on Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis around 8 p.m. “I can’t breathe”, he says. A police officer is kneeling on his neck. He pleads for his life. “They’re going to kill me”, he says… They did. The callousness and indifference of his killing captured on a bystander’s cell phone video camera.

I do not have words for what I feel or think about this. Hollow, empty, exhausted, outrage – perhaps? Incredulous? (Yet again) as my mind runs through the long list of unarmed Black men, women, and children killed by the police since Michael Brown’s killing in 2014. That is only the recent past. What about those going farther back in time, from the Jim Crow Era, let’s say, whose names we do not know and numbers we cannot count when the preferred method of extra-judicial execution was lynching? Racial terrorism and White supremacy live on.

This screening of SHOT is needed and is right for this moment. It is also intended for WHITE ALLIES and those White people who say they stand with and want to PARTNER with Black and People of Color in the struggle to dismantle racism and White supremacy. In probably one of the most hopeful and optimistic speeches ever given by a Black leader, then-Senator Barack Obama spoke in his “A More Perfect Union” speech on March 18, 2008, of an “unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people.” A belief that morality, the “right thing to do,” would win out. The “American people” he speaks of are White people. The truth and reality of SHOT to Black and Brown people is already known and it is White people that are being asked to be decent, generous, and to do the right thing, as a moral imperative.

In an effort to ENGAGE you and be ENGAGED with you, we are asking that before you view SHOT you ask yourself the following questions, then again after the viewing:

  • What are you DOING to move the needle forward toward racial equality?
  • What are you DOING to dismantle racism and White supremacy?
  • Do you think you need to DO something?
  • If you think you are already DOING, do you think that is enough?
  • Do you want to begin to DO or DO more to end the violence directed towards Black and Brown people?

Do not take these questions as a way to make you feel guilty or to shame you. That is not their intention. Think of them as tools for you to begin to measure where you are and how you might move into ACTION. We need you to share in the heavy lifting of this demolition project.

– Donald Byrd

Program Note:

SHOT premiered on January 19, 2017, at the Leo K. Theatre in Seattle, WA.

Through visceral and urgent contemporary dance theater, you are invited to contemplate the alarming and continuous murder of black people by American law enforcement. With the police’s ever-expanding authority, supported by recent rulings of the Supreme Court, we ask – when will it stop? SHOT is an unapologetic critique of the current American landscape, where black people find themselves in an intense cycle of fear, intimidation, aggression, and death.

CHOREOGRAPHY & DIRECTION
Donald Byrd

LIGHTING & SCENIC DESIGN
Jack Mehler

PROJECTION DESIGN
Travis Mouffe

COSTUME DESIGN
Doris Black

STAGE MANAGER
Sara Torres

SPECTRUM COMPANY ARTISTS
Alex Crozier, Blair Jolly Elliot, Paul Giarratano, Nia-Amina Minor, Robert Moore (Apprentice), Madison Oliver, Alexander Pham, Emily Pihlaja, Andrew Pontius, Fausto Rivera, Mary Sigward, Lena Silverman (Apprentice), Jaclyn Wheatley, Sherman Wood

"SHOT" Viewer's Guide

Please ask yourself the following questions before and after viewing SHOT:

  • What am I DOING to move the needle forward toward racial equality?
  • What am I DOING to dismantle racism and White supremacy?
  • Do I think that I need to DO something?
  • If I think that I am already DOING, do I think that is enough?
  • Do I want to begin to, or DO more to, end the violence directed towards Black and Brown people?
  • What am I PERSONALLY going to give up to dismantle White supremacy?
ABOUT "(Im)PULSE"

This is PRIDE MONTH, a commemorative month meant to recognize the sweeping impact that LGBQT+ individuals, advocates, and allies have had on the history of the United States, and around the globe. It also commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. 

The Uprising began when New York City’s Public Morals Division, a unit of the New York Police Department, raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village. What was different on this night, as opposed to the many other nights when Stonewall and other gay establishments were raided, was that the patrons refused to take it. Stirred on by Marsha P Johnson, a Black trans-woman, when she shouted, “I got my civil rights” and threw a shot glass into a mirror, the Stonewall patrons (joined later by others from surrounding bars) fought back and resisted arrest. The ensuing rioting and protests lasted for 6 days. And while Stonewall was not the start of the LGBTQ+ movement (activists had been organizing since at least the 1920s), it was the rage and fervor caused by it that helped catapult the movement to a new level.

To me, it is significant that one of the people at the center of Stonewall was a Black trans-woman. I am reminded that Black civil rights and the LGBTQ+ movement have always exhibited a certain level of intersectionality. As we have noticed more acts of police brutality and violent and murderous transgressions by racists and White supremacists, we are also noticing upticks of violence directed at Black trans-women. I do not believe this is a coincidence. Where there is racism, there is homophobia, and Black transphobia is where they intersect.

(Im)PULSE responds to the 2016 mass shooting at PULSE, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida which left 49 people dead and dozens injured. It is also a response to the systemic and on-going violence, microaggressions, and other acts of annihilation directed towards those who identify as LGBTQ+. 

This work wonders at two human impulses. Firstly, the impulse to create alternate realities when one is assaulted and faced with difficult truths. Secondly, the impulse by some to destroy those who are different, especially when they do not conform to heteronormative standards.

The text for (Im)PULSE is drawn from two sources, the work of painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz (Sep 14, 1954 – Jul 22, 1992) and the unpublished play, Marrow, by award-winning contemporary playwright Brian Quirk. Borrowing from the performance idioms in dance and theater of the New York downtown scene of the 1980s and early ‘90s, this work hopes to reveal, through historical antecedents, the continuum and the escalation of gay-bashings to the mass violence of the PULSE nightclub massacre. 

(Im)PULSE uses many of the strategies of ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) via highly theatricalized demonstrations and dramatic acts of civil disobedience, as well as the downtown monologists’ highly personal performances characterized by rants, raging, and confession. These elements along with text, dance, movement, sound, music, projections, and video elements are used to create the hallucinogenic and feverish mind of a physically traumatized person struggling to make sense of a horrific act of violence.  

 – Donald Byrd, June 2020

"(Im)PULSE" Viewer's Guide
Conversations About Race with SDT x PNB: Peter Boal & Donald Byrd

In response to the recent killings of Black people by law enforcement, and the subsequent protests demanding justice and systemic change, Spectrum Dance Theater and Pacific Northwest Ballet are partnering to produce series of conversations between leaders, dancers and staff at both organizations discussing the Black Lives Matter movement, race & equity in the arts as well as ongoing/non-optical allyship from White people and POCs (Non-Black and Non-Indigenous People of Color). The goal of these conversations is action – both individual and institutional for its participants and viewers.

The series will kick off Tuesday, June 30 at 3PM with a conversation between Artistic Directors Donald Byrd of Spectrum Dance Theater and Peter Boal of Pacific Northwest Ballet.

The conversation was pre-recorded last week and Donald and Peter will join this YouTube video premiere for via chat during their video conversation.

RESOURCE LIST

The following collection of resources is by no means comprehensive. It is a starting place for some, a refresher for others. We encourage you to use these lists and share these lists. And please cite your sources when you do!

 

FOR BLACK FOLX

 

HOW TO GET INVOLVED RIGHT NOW

The following resource list is full of actionable items including how to give to memorials funds, best practices for sharing information on social media, scripts & templates for contacting elected officials, protesting tips, and much, much more.

A compilation of resources for taking immediate action

And this! M4BL – Black like we never left

 

HOW TO CONTINUE TO DO THE WORK

A collection of resources for, literally, everyone. This list is an excellent starting place for self-education, self-work, and self-care. Anti-Racist Resources from Greater Good 

Dubbed the “Anti-Racist Allyship Starter Pack” by its creators (Jourdan Dorrell, Tatum Dorrell, and Matt Herndon), this is actually a solid collection for White people and BIPOCs (especially those of you looking for things to read!). The “pack” also includes things to watch, listen to, post, sign, and share. 

 

HOW TO SHOW UP LOCALLY

If you live in/near Seattle, support individuals as well as these organizations and groups (below). “Support,” as detailed in the above resource lists can take many forms, including but not limited to, donating, using your platform(s) to amplify Black voices, making phone calls/sending emails to elected officials, signing petitions, volunteering your time, buying locally made goods, getting out of your comfort zone, listening.

Community Care
Africatown-Central District
BLM Seattle Freedom Fund
King County COVID-19 Survival Fund
Lavender Rights Project
Northwest Community Bail Fund
Washington Black Trans Task Force

Arts
African-American Writers’ Alliance
Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas
Creative Justice
LANGSTON
Martyr Sauce
Northwest African American Museum
Northwest Tap Connection
ONYX Fine Arts
Seattle Urban Book Expo
Spectrum Dance Theater
Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center
Wa Na Wari

Media
Converge Media
No Blueprint Podcast
The NW Facts Newspaper
Rainier Avenue Radio
The Seattle Medium
South Seattle Emerald | Amplifying the Authentic Narratives of South Seattle

#ShopBlack
Intentionalist – Black-Owned in WA

 

A special thank-you to Shawn Peterson, Program Manager of Native Girls Code at Na’ah Illahee Fund for sharing the @NationalResourcesList. We shared a very small sampling of the resources included and strongly encourage you to dive deeper into this list. We also encourage you to support the incredible work of the Na’ah Illahee Fund by donating here.