So much of the last year has been adjusting to the changes that are happening around us. Through changing information, changing safety practices, and changing perspectives, it was easy to feel like we were at the mercy of external forces; we were expected to make all the adjustments. And yet, the practice of anyone in our business is to fall down seven times, get up eight. By staying true to that nature that exists in our creative lives, we have found ways to persevere through the myriad of knockdowns of the past year. Many in our communities of Minneapolis and St. Paul raised their voices, stood in solidarity, told truth to power, and stared down media criticism in order to tell our stories, whether or not they were doing so as they wrote plays for the traditional stage. And even that was called into question; is theatre only theatre if it takes place in Greek amphitheatres or the temperature controlled edifices we’ve built to mimic them? Can we still call it theatre if there aren’t audience members sitting shoulder to shoulder facing a stage? Or is that yet another adjustment that is being asked of us? It’s important to acknowledge that even though the traditional theatre spaces have been closed by the pandemic, live theatre continued to take place in Minneapolis and St. Paul. There is something Boal-esque about it; whether or not the participants would call themselves theatre artists is up for discussion, though many theatre artists shifted their efforts to put their energy into doing the activism work that these trying times have been calling for. So for this Season in Review, I’d like to focus on those who have made the hard pivots from our work in the theatre to a greater collaboration with the communities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
In response to the rioting after the murder of George Floyd, a group called University Rebuild emerged, comprised mainly of Twin Cities theatre artists from many different disciplines, who sought to protect small BIPOC-owned businesses in Minneapolis and St. Paul in solidarity with BIPOC communities and taking cues from BIPOC leaders. By the end of June 2020, University Rebuild (named after University Ave., a main thoroughfare connecting St. Paul and Minneapolis) estimated that they had helped to board up more than 200 local businesses. Many of the business owners were particularly afraid of organized white supremacist groups. Materials came from theatre companies, private and non-profit groups, as well as corporations. The plywood that was put up to protect storefronts was then beautified by visual artists who painted messages of solidarity, hope, and healing. And when it was time for the plywood to come down, University Rebuild was there to help businesses take them down as they reopened. Two grassroots organizations, Save the Boards and Memorialize the Movement, focused on preserving the plywood artwork, collected the boards as they came down, and held an outdoor exhibition in Phelps Park, a block south of George Floyd Square, in May 2021.
In April 2021, in anticipation of a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, and also in the aftermath of the killing of Daunte Wright at the hands of the Brooklyn Center police on April 11th, University Rebuild was called upon again to help protect locally owned small businesses in the area around Minneapolis and St. Paul.
In June 2020, Tru Ruts, in partnership with the Playwrights’ Center, launched A Moment of Silence, an anthology of new work to elevate Black voices in Minnesota. A Moment of Silence was edited by Shá Cage and features work from Tylie Shider, E.G. Bailey, Stacey Rose, Candrice Jones, Carlyle Brown, Harrison Rivers, and many more. Since then, Tru Ruts has collaborated with the Healing Justice Foundation to curate a community-wide calendar to amplify spaces of healing during the Derek Chauvin trial from March-June 2021, and in the aftermath of the killing of Daunte Wright.
The early months of the pandemic saw a rise in discrimination, violence, and hate directed at the Asian American community. In response, I collaborated with Barkada Theatre to create Unalienable, a virtual monologue project, to give artists with Asian ancestry an opportunity to speak about their own experiences during the pandemic. I was fortunate to curate and contribute to the project featuring new work by Kit Yan, Christine Toy Johnson, Lucy Wang, Elizabeth Wong, and Karen Huie, among others. Videos, created by the actors performing the monologues, were posted to Barkada Theatre’s social media accounts beginning in May 2020, for Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, through July of last year.
With the addition of virtual theatre as a means for readings and new work development, the writing continued throughout the season. Tiffa Foster’s play Albert Wants a Shirt was featured in Chameleon Theatre Circle’s 22nd Annual New Play Contest, winning in the 10-minute play category. The Oracle at Mount Venus by Angie Bors was presented virtually as part of “Will You Be My --- ?” A Pop-up Play Reading with Thinking Cap Theatre in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and Drapetomania by Alayna Jacqueline received a reading as part of New Leaf New Play Development Program, a collaboration between Playwright Cabal & Arts Nest to uplift the work of Minnesota-based playwrights.
The Playwrights’ Center continued its support of dramatists with virtual readings and workshops held throughout the season. They recently announced the 2021-24 Core Writers Mathilde Dratwa, L M Feldman, Franky Gonzalez, Yilong Liu, Tylie Shider, Deborah Yarchun, and Nathan Yungerberg. James Anthony Tyler has been awarded the 2021 McKnight National Residency and Commission, and the 2021-22 McKnight Fellowship in Playwriting recipients are JuCoby Johnson and Cristina Luzárraga.
The work continues, whether you’re in the theatre or in the streets. So, whatever you do, don’t forget to drink water and get plenty of rest. Your voice is needed out there.
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