Victory Gardens Theater has found its new Artistic Director in the multi-hyphenate and accomplished producer Ken-Matt Martin (he/him/his). Chicago artists may know him best as the Associate Producer at The Goodman, where he co-created and curated the Future Labs new play development program with Jonathan Green and Quenna Barrett. Regionally, Martin’s resume is just as impressive, beginning with his co-founding of Pyramid Theatre Company in Des Moines, IA, a company inspired by the Black Arts Movement. He served as Pyramid’s Executive Director until 2018, and it is there where his aesthetic compatibility to Chicago becomes clear. At Pyramid, Martin directed Ike Holter’s Prowess, and produced Hooded: Or Being Black for Dummies, both shows that ran to great success at Chicago companies. He then put his skills to action to national acclaim as the Producing Director of Williamstown Theatre Festival where he produced the revivals of Raisin in the Sun directed by Robert O’Hara, Ghosts starring Uma Thurman, and numerous other world premieres.
We See You White American Theater has grown exponentially since we last covered this dynamic and controversial movement in June. Their Change.org petition has grown to over 100,000 signatures, and their Instagram has over 20,000 followers.
Who are they? Why are they anonymous? Look no further for an answer. #WeSeeYouWat has launched a new Medium page. They are using the platform to speak directly to the Black, Indigenous, and POC community, answering the questions we’ve been asking.
In a series entitled “12 Days of Watchmas,” they seem to be revealing both the structure of the organization as well as the experiences of people that are motivating the movement. According to the first post on the Medium page a new article will drop every day for twelve days.
“Think of it as an advent calendar for the people, written for us and by us. Published on our terms. There are MANY voices going into this effort that reflect the multidisciplinary, multigenerational movement we’ve built.” – We See You WAT.
Rescripted firmly believes in letting artists speak for themselves, and so below we have published the entirety of the first essay originally posted on Medium. You can also follow the movement on Twitter or Instagram.
The Anatomy of Anonymity
When we met, we didn’t know why we were meeting. We were various disgruntled BIPOC theatremakers, all fired up from the unrest in the nation. We saw the testimonies of our colleagues on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. We were boiling over with discontent and we needed release. We didn’t all know each other. We weren’t being selective. It wasn’t a hot club to be a part of. It. Was. Random. When we signed onto an anonymous zoom, we had no idea who else would be on the line. We were gathered by circumstance, and began to have church over our collective fed-upness with the field-wide fuckery. Suddenly, we felt like we HAD to do something together, and allow it to be a catalyst for future action. This was how the original Dear White American Theatre letter was born.
We then all decided to call ten friends to get them to sign the letter if they felt inspired. And ultimately, we wanted to invite our entire field into the cause by creating the change.org petition. And they did. We are the mighty 101,000 and still going.
Since then, we’ve been bombarded with the questions — Who are you? Who is behind We See You? Why are you anonymous?
Then came the accusations: We are a shadow government. We are the BIPOC illuminati. We are cowards. Elitists. Exclusionists. Simply because we refuse to quench the thirst for exposing our rotating leadership. Well let us break down why…
We study history. We have activists among us who have lived through several eras of liberation movements. We have multiple generations of culture workers in our ranks. We know what happens when leaders are identified. They are pacified and movements are destroyed. We know what happened to the Civil Rights Movement. To Chicano Movements. To Black Liberation Movements. To Workers Rights Movements. Leaders have been assassinated. Our field is no different. There are multiple ways to assassinate theatremakers: stifle their voices, exploit their talents, mute their outrage, cancel their productions, bar them from auditions and crews, blacklist them. We are not having it.
Many of us have already suffered personal attacks, been hunted and cornered by White American Theatre leaders, been targeted by the press and threatened with losing our jobs in the middle of an economically stressed season in our industry. We will not allow each other to be silenced or intimidated. We have each others’ backs, and we have the backs of our entire field of anti-racism workers and bullshit-resisters. We are working to put impact and volume behind our colleagues who have stepped out individually to share their experiences of harm.
There were initial impulses among us to step out front and be the face of the cause. But how can any one of us be the face of so many? That’s some ol’ white supremacy nonsense and we are not going to copycat. In fact, ego and glory-seeking are the antithesis of progressive movement organizing. So we theatre makers made a joint decision to resist the desires for recognition and credit that often plagues our industry-wide culture. We decided to receive NO individual credit. We chose service over shine. We chose principles over personalities. We chose to stand together. And we will not be broken.
We know we don’t speak for everybody. That would be ridiculous. And some folks are perfectly fine speaking out for their own causes. Please feel free to keep ‘doing you’.
But if you are feeling expendable and exhausted, we have your backs. If you are working in the highest positions on Broadway, or if you are working in the smallest office in the regions; If you are a student frustrated with your program and feel like you have no allies and advocates, You Do. We are not superheroes or a shadow government. We are vulnerable theatremakers who have given our blood to this field at every level. We want to see it be better and more equitable for you and for all of us. We are your accomplices. And we need you to be ours. We need your amplifying, testifying and co-signing. We need your eyes, ears, and outrage. Not to hide behind you. Not to get in front of you and block you. But to soldier alongside you, in worker solidarity.
If you want to know who we are, look around. We are all over this field. We are its backbone. And we are not playing games. We will continue to push for it to be best, because it is what we all deserve.
Yours in Love and Action,
All four playwrights have pulled their plays from the 2020 Ignition Festival at Victory Gardens’ Theatre. Read the full letter below, originally published on Medium.
As the 2020 Ignition Festival of New Plays at Victory Gardens approaches, we four emerging playwrights have decided to pull our respective plays from this development opportunity. We demand that leadership in Chicago theaters dispense with hollow gestures of solidarity, hold themselves accountable for past mistakes, and listen to the needs of their community and artists. Continue reading “Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Withdraw From Ignition Festival of New Plays”
A Note from the Editor: Bear Bellinger’s voice in the community is critical to me. In a moment where I didn’t know if I had the strength to speak up, I read this essay, initially published on Medium. Bear has given us permission to re-publish it here, and I hope it gives you courage to use your voice, even when you’re scared, like it did for me. Thank you for the reminder that Black Lives, our lives, and what we do with them, matter. In an effort to prevent Bear from doing additional emotional labor, please refrain from reaching out directly to the artist. If you’d like to support, please consider giving directly. Venmo: @BearBellinger
I never expected to still be here.
Some mornings, I shoot up from bed confused, breathless, lost between the dream world I just escaped and the realization that I am still here. My body is whole, my mind is intact, my spirit…struggling.
You see, I occasionally have nightmares of being shot by the police, remixing past interactions with deadly consequences. I dream of KKK rallies and unprovoked bar fights. I dream of danger. I dream of our history. I dream of our present. And, those dreams inevitably end in my death.
You get it.
To be clear: I don’t want to die. But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect to. Continue reading “To All The Black People Killed Before Me”
Sugar in our Wounds by Donja R. Love at First Floor Theater is nestled in the upstairs of the Den Theatre, a space designed by Joy Ahn to hold its audience tightly through the events of the play. Seemingly endless branches that source from an ancient tree glow from within, arching over the space as if to say come closer, I have a story in my roots. If you listen closely, Sam Clapp’s sound design will have you thinking you hear the ancestors murmuring to you as the wind whistles through the branches. Continue reading “‘Sugar in our Wounds,’ an Ode to Black Love in a Time of Great Pain”
Ms. Blakk For President is a world premiere play performed at Steppenwolf Theatre, co-written and directed by Tina Landau and written by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The show is about Chicago’s very own LGBTQ activist Terence Alan Smith, better known as the drag queen Joan Jett Blakk, who decided to run a political campaign with Act Up and Queer Nation to bring visibility to the Gay community in crisis during the 90s. It’s a pretty unknown story to someone, like me, who was born in the very late 1990s without context on figures who are often censored in our pop culture. Steppenwolf’s lobby dramaturgy does a great job with filling the atmosphere and historical context about the show. The dramaturgy display (Polly Hubbard) is filled with an engaging Chicago timeline that traces Joan Jett Blakk and the AIDS crisis from the 1970s to present today. There are also a few art installations and a memorial to Marsha P. Johnson. Continue reading “Pride is the Prerogative in ‘Ms. Blakk For President’ at Steppenwolf Theatre”
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange is a vibrant tribute to the transitional power of the Black femme. The moment we step into the abandoned train station at Court Theatre, we know we are in a space full with the possibility of movement and growth. Directed by Seret Scott, who took over the role of Lady in Orange in the original Broadway production, this beautiful production moves with purpose. Continue reading “‘For Colored Girls’ at Court Theatre Leads us to the end of our own Rainbows”
In Hansol Jung’s Cardboard Piano, produced by Timeline Theatre and directed by Mechelle Moe, we find ourselves trapped in a church without a redeemer. Two teen girls, one the daughter of an American missionary, the other a Ugandan, exchange vows by cande light on the eve of the millennium. Chris (Kearstyn Keller) is the typical preacher’s kid, stubborn and questioning of her identity in relation to her father’s, a bit naïve with the heart of a runaway. Adiel (Adia Alli) a young Ugandan girl is a persuasive quick thinker, harboring compassion and calm, all necessary traits for a young girl surviving in a war-torn country. Together, their chemistry and love are infectious, but this proves dangerous in a country collapsed by colonialism, mind and body. In Uganda, homosexuality is not only a sin, but illegal. Continue reading “‘Cardboard Piano’ A Romance That Reckons With Historical Pain”
This Bitter Earth by Harrison David Rivers and directed by Mikael Burke is currently running at About Face Theatre. This two person show follows an interracial gay couple through the most agonizing police violence events of our time. It is a treat to witness the gifted Sheldon Brown return to the stage again after an impressive turn in the Shipment. Especially in a role that is all about taking risks and attempting to live life to the fullest. Continue reading “The Scope of Blackness in ‘This Bitter Earth’”
It’s 1997 in the Hill District of Pittsburgh at Court Theatre and Harmond Wilks (Allen Gilmore) is running for Mayor. Radio Golf transforms the Court Theatre into an authentic depiction of a small office and its’ surroundings. The detail remains strong from the graffiti on the billboards to the discoloration in the ceilings. This set makes me feel at home in a place I’ve never visited, the raw attention to detail really captures the true essence of places we hear about but never see, such as the parking lot or infamous Aunt Ester’s home. Continue reading “Court Theatre’s ‘Radio Golf’ Rings True Today”