National Black Theatre's Trayvon Martin Plays Focus on Race and Privilege

By Jeff Mays on January 22, 2014 9:24am 

Slideshow
 Almost two years after Florida neighborhood watchmen George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, Harlem's National Black Theatre is staging the first full production of "Facing Our Truth" —six rapid-fire plays performed in quick succession— with the hopes of continuing important conversations around the issue of Martin's death and Zimmerman's subsequent acquital in July.
National Black Theatre's Trayvon Martin Plays Focus on Race and Privilege
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HARLEM — In "Facing Our Truth: 10 minute Plays on Trayvon, Race and Privilege" actress C. Kelly Wright plays a mother whose teenage son is killed because of the color of his skin and how he's dressed.

For Wright, the role hits home. After reading the script for the first time she thought about how what happened to the hoodie-clad black Florida teenager Trayvon Martin could easily happen to her own young adult son.

"He's brilliant, has such promise, and doesn't think this world is a dangerous place," Wright said of her 24-year-old son. "What happened to Trayvon Martin is a story too many mothers have dealt with in our community."

Almost two years after Florida neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Harlem's National Black Theatre is staging the first full production of "Facing Our Truth" — six plays performed in quick succession— with the hopes of continuing important conversations around the issue of Martin's death and Zimmerman's subsequent acquittal.

"It was a tragic event and our community wasn't given a model on how to deal with it," said director Axel Avin Jr. "A lot of voices weren't heard and some in our community didn't have a chance to grieve or speak out."

Zimmerman, 29, a volunteer neighborhood watchman in Sanford, Fla., was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter for the Feb. 26, 2012 shooting.

Prosecutors claimed Zimmerman shot Martin after following the teen, against the commands of a 911 dispatcher, because Zimmerman believed Martin was a criminal. Zimmerman's defense team argued he shot the unarmed team in self defense after Martin attacked him.

The acquittal set off outrage and a wave of protests around the country.

The six, 10-minute plays were first commissioned by the New Black Fest immediately after Zimmerman was acquitted on July 13, 2013.

"We probably wouldn't be doing this if Zimmerman was convicted because justice would have been served," said Avin. "That's why it's interesting to see how each writer interpreted the situation."

The playwrights come from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds and sexual orientations.

"America is a melting pot of cultural identity. To talk about race and privilege you have to have that melting pot," said Jonathan McCrory, director of theater arts for National Black Theatre.

There is also a diversity of styles among the six plays. There is a musical and a wild satire titled "No More Monsters" by Marcus Gardley where a white woman is diagnosed with "Negroidphobia" or a fear of black people.

She is treated for her ailment by being forced to wear a hoodie that transforms her into a black man for three days during which time she has to find a job and deal with a racist encounter.

Other pieces like "Dressing" by Mona Mansour and Tala Manassah focus on the dialogue between a mother and her son over everyday things like grades and appearance and perceptions.

The conversation just doesn't end on stage. The National Black Theatre is also staging a series of "community engagements" related to the play in conjunction with Betty’s Daughter Arts Collaborative.

On Feb. 5, Martin's birthday, the theater will host a celebration of his life. On Feb. 8 a forum entitled "Coming Face to Face with Our Truth" will host a discussion about the Zimmerman trial and the issues surrounding it.

The National Black Theatre is also hosting "The Hoodie: Art Exhibit" where several visual artists take a hoodie, which Martin was wearing the night he was killed, and use it to explore how clothing and dress defines us.

"I want to help my community put voice to their emotions," said McCrory.

McCory also wants to ignite the "inner activist" in young people and inspire them to look at the plays as a challenge to create change in their neighborhoods.

"Trayvon was their age," said McCrory. "We want our young people to not be at the margins of this conversation but in the center."

"Facing Our Truth" will run at the National Black Theatre from Wed., Feb. 5 to Sat., Feb. 8 with a special performance Monday, Feb. 10. All the evening shows will start at 7:30 with a Saturday matinee performance at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 for general admission. Visit www.nationalblacktheatre.org, call (212) 722-3800 or email rsvp@nationalblacktheatre.org for more information.

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