Ensemble Theater Cincinnati (ETC) continues its longstanding commitment to socially responsible and empowering contemporary theater with a pair of one-act solo plays about black women: the world premiere of Isaiah Reaves I won’t be moved and the updated revival of Your Negro Tour Guidebased on the former by Kathy Y. Wilson CityBeat column and comments for the National Public Radio, collected in Your Negro Tour Guide: Black and White Truthspublished in 2004.
Reaves, a playwright recently graduated from Northern Kentucky University and now enrolled in the Playwrights Workshop at the University of Iowa, wrote a screenplay about his grandmother, Betty Daniels Rosemond, a Freedom Rider pioneer who turned fought for civil rights in the American South in the 1960s. Your Negro Tour Guide was created by actor Torie Wiggins and director Jeff Griffin in 2008, presented at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival that year, then in New York and Texas, then at ETC in 2012. A decade later, it was put updated by Wilson and assembled into a staged production that will again feature Wiggins, who also directs Reaves’ play.
“I am both personally and professionally grateful to have the opportunity at Ensemble to bring together these two playwrights and their vision of what was and can be for our country and our world,” said D. Lynn Meyers. , ETC’s production art director, in a statement. on plays. “I have the greatest respect for what Kathy Y. Wilson has done in her career to improve our vision, to strengthen the bonds between people and to call it that. She’s uncompromising, and that’s what I always wanted Ensemble to be.
“Isaiah Reaves is an inspiration. It’s amazing how he wrote his grandmother’s story using his words and his influence as a young black man in this world. Having these shows to look forward to during the dark days of the pandemic has always kept the light shining at ETC.
Reaves drew on her grandmother’s journals to tell the story of a young black woman’s fearless battle for fairness and equality.
“She was the center of my life,” says Reaves CityBeat. “I grew up looking up to him, and the story of his Freedom Rider was something I didn’t understand at first. When I started writing plays when I was younger, my dream was to tell his history.
But he felt he was not ready to write it.
“I wanted to wait until I had enough confidence in my job,” he says. “I wanted to wait for the right opportunity to present itself. It’s really 13 years of preparation. It took me all this time to do this.
Reaves is only 24 years old.
ETC encouraged him by commissioning the work and donating I won’t be moved a reading workshop to refine the screenplay two years ago.
Betty Daniels Rosemond’s activism was prompted when her mother was denied the right to vote in Louisiana. Rosemond witnessed the beginning of the civil rights movement as it was portrayed in the media. Living in New Orleans, she paid attention and felt she had something to accomplish.
“She wasn’t happy with Jim Crow laws,” Reaves says. “There were people who were very comfortable not disturbing the peace, but my grandmother was not one of those people.”
Rosemond was one of the first black students to enroll at Louisiana State University. She studied writing and English, but her activism interrupted her formal education. She eventually came to live in Cincinnati and started a family. His grandson is the first person in his immediate family to graduate from college, which Rosemond encouraged and supported.
Reaves had yet to write a solo show.
“I didn’t like solo theater, but the story came to me solo. It was for me the best creative challenge in the world to take on,” he says.
Her script depicts Rosemond one night alone as she “packs up to do a Freedom Ride while she decides whether or not to go on,” he says.
The work is a monologue about his experiences. The central conflict of the story is whether or not to continue her work as a Freedom Rider, knowing that she might be risking her life.
“The public helps him make that decision,” Reaves says.
Actress Samantha Russell, a member of ETC’s acting apprenticeship program in 2016-2017, portrays Reaves’ grandmother.
Wiggins, who directs Reaves’ one-act play, does double duty: she is also the solo actress who plays Your Negro Tour Guide. She has a history with the material, dating back to the early 2000s. She and director Griffin were drama students at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music when Wilson’s sassy and impassioned chronicles — rants about the issues of race, gender and class in America – have been published in CityBeat. They partnered with Wilson to develop a script for Wiggins to perform, and they worked with Wilson to update the material for the ETC presentation.
Wilson, now in his late 50s, says references to black culture, music and rappers needed to be brought into the present. She added a section on “runaway gay slaves”, one unruly and outspoken – like Wilson herself – and another who is the slave owner’s untouchable offspring.
“There’s a soliloquy that uses every euphemism for lesbian sex,” Wilson says CityBeat. She admits that she made up some of the terms when some of them are real language.
Wilson marvels at Wiggins’ acting skills, saying she needs to voice what the black overseer says as well as the two women.
“And it has to end with a weird punchline,” Wilson says.
Wilson says working with Wiggins and Griffin was a theater education for her, and she read plays and took notes.
“I take notes as if I were a graduate student. You have to study what you want to be great at,” she says.
ETC warns that Wilson’s piece contains mature language and content, including themes of racism and racial slurs, physical assault, gender identity, homophobia and misogyny, and adds that it ” not suitable for young audiences.
But ETC’s doubleheader promises an evening of provocative and moving performances that are sure to be uplifting for the rest of us.
I won’t be moved and Your Negro Tour Guide will be presented in doubles at the Ensemble Theater Cincinnati (1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine) from April 9 to May 7. Tickets and more information: togethercincinnati.org.
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