Cover of the March/April 2022 issue of The Dramatist
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Twin Cities: A Certain Solidarity
George Floyd/Obi-Wan Kenobi Quote Protest Art, Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis
George Floyd/Obi-Wan Kenobi Quote Protest Art, Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis

One of the great fallacies about being a storyteller is that any creator is entitled to tell any story they’d like. Much like an actor who once believed themselves to be a chameleon on stage, we have come to learn that there are often times when it may not be our place to assume the role of storyteller; our job can be to hold the space for others to tell the stories from the community to which they belong.

Living in Minneapolis during the summer of 2020 is a strong example of what happens when outside forces seek to define a community from a limited lens. I certainly remember the frustration I felt when people who did not live in my community tried to tell me what was going on in my city in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd based on what they had seen on television or read on the internet. 

That summer, TyLie Shider started taking long walks around his neighborhood in an effort to unplug and get outside during the warmer months in Minneapolis. On these walks it was hard to miss the protest art, whether it was in the form of hand-painted lawn signs or on the plywood that had been put up to protect nearby storefronts. It was a way for the community to communicate a certain solidarity that had not been portrayed in the news media. He credits Minneapolis as being an artist hub for the beautification during a time of unrest. “The question that really arose in me was how could something so beautiful emerge from Floyd’s murder, which was of course ugly,” he says. 

His new play Whittier is a contemporary docudrama that seeks to tell the story of its namesake, the Whittier neighborhood in south Minneapolis, during the summer of 2020. A filmmaker in addition to being a playwright, Shider partnered with cinematographer Nick Clausen to create Sign o’ the Times, a video documentary featuring conversations Shider had with neighbors and members of the surrounding communities about the signage they chose to display. The play utilizes composite characters and scenarios built from these interviews set against the factual backdrop of the Whittier neighborhood in Minneapolis during the real-life events of the summer of 2020. Sign o’ the Times is meant to be a companion piece to Whittier, and the footage will be made available to producing theatres to decide how to interweave both media for the live performances. 

A self-identified investigative playwright, Shider came to Minneapolis on a Jerome Fellowship through the Playwrights’ Center, where he sought to find some distance from the east coast to research and write a play about the 1967 race riots in his hometown of Plainfield, New Jersey. His grandparents were part of the Great Migration, moving from the south to Plainfield nineteen months before the race riots broke out. His play, Certain Aspects of Conflict in the Negro Family, is set to be produced at Premiere Stages in October 2022. When asked about the parallels between these two plays, Shider says, “I think that human behavior and the response to the incident is what is more parallel than anything… I can’t sit here and say that in 2021 there’s been no progress. That’d just be me denying the work that my grandparents have done… One of the parallels that was striking was that the youth and the college students were at the helm of it. And that was also true in ‘67. The youth in Plainfield, New Jersey were at the helm of the uprising that happened in Plainfield. And they also were at the helm of what was happening in Minneapolis.”

Eric “Pogi” Sumangil
Eric “Pogi” Sumangil

is a two-time recipient of the Many Voices Fellowship at the Playwrights’ Center. Earlier this year, he produced and wrote for UNALIENABLE, a virtual monologue project highlighting the experiences of Americans of Asian descent during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is also the DG Regional Rep for Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN.