A cacophony of political voices rage in the news and on the streets as Black activists and artists fight for basic human rights. There is an urgency to participate in public protest or at least to connect with other artists doing engaged work. Yet writing, especially during the time of COVID-19 quarantine, has been primarily a solo act. I am a Black artist working in South East Michigan who yearns to connect with other storytellers to create new work through writing and devising. However, in these times, with the coronavirus circulating, I work alone and miss the inspiration of other artists: actors, dramaturgs, composers, and dancers.
One day, a dance artist and storyteller knocked on my door asking to come in and share a meal. She was really asking for a human connection missing from her life since the onset of the 2020 quarantine. This artist, Alexandria Davis, became the first member of what would become a collective of artists dedicated to creating new work, a quarantine pod called Covid Black Theatre. We wanted to be safe, so everyone first took a COVID-19 test, and then agreed to remain relatively isolated outside of the pod’s activities. This allowed us to comfortably sing, dance, eat, and share breath. After Alexandria made the first linkage, other artists connected to Ann Arbor, MI joined: writer/director Antonio Disla, composer DIANA LAWRENCE, actor/lyricist Shaka Brown and singer/choreographer Robin Wilson. Collectively we realized that within our small group of creators, we could nurture one another in telling stories through gesture, sound and language.
Outdoors was always safest. We warmed up in the grass of my suburban apartment complex, garnering strange (or perhaps frightened) looks from the neighbors. We read new text aloud while sprawling on my living room floor with food and plates and papers thrown akimbo. We crafted lyrics to new songs while standing in a tiny screened-in porch. We recorded, rewrote, shared and critiqued each other’s developing ideas. Most of all, we found Black community and solidarity in rewriting the isolation of quarantine as an opportunity to collectively write.
I share this process because even though moments of isolation can support our playwriting processes, we cannot forget about the need to breathe together. The very breath that we share has become a potential threat to our lives; however, an even greater threat would be to lose the sense of live theatrical storytelling which keeps us connected to the basic humanity of life.
Covid Black is the beginning of what could be an ongoing process of sharing breath to activate and to keep ourselves human.