“Michael Brown! Trayvon Martin! Eric Garner! Sandra Bland! Walter Scott!”
Connecticut native Onyeka Obiocha gasped out these all too familiar names to a charged crowd in Long Wharf Theatre’s Stage II on Friday night. He stood on stage reciting these names while 70 other performers whispered in support of the thousands of black people killed by law enforcement over the course of our history in the United States. There is said to be approximately one every 28 hours of our existence.
The list went on as the rest of the performers fell silent. As Onyeka breathlessly released his final name, he nearly collapsed. The world was frozen. People Against Police Brutality activist Kerry Ellington’s front-row fist shot right into the air. One by one everybody on stage raised a fist in the air. Unplanned, jointly motivated–over 70 fists raised up in an act of solidarity. Then the audience joined in. Then, as simultaneously as the hands thrusted upward, they came back down to a quiet, charged room. The calm and present emcee, Hanifa Washington, took two steps forward.
“We can breathe”
The sound of one loud, deep collective breath. And again. And a third time.
“Together we can breathe”
Then Hanifa asked,“Now what do we do with that breath?”
This was after the 72nd of 72 one-minute plays in The Every 28 Hours Plays–– written by artists nationwide. The plays were performed by local actors, advocates, and activists who gathered for the first time last week. Many of the participants had never set foot in Long Wharf Theatre before this project. Interspersed between the plays, were personal stories of police brutality here in the Greater New Haven area.
The steady silence that followed the collective raising of fists erupted into applause as the audience rushed the stage to embrace the performers. All plans for post-show discussions were delayed by about fifteen minutes. We had underestimated the need to hold one another.
The 230 people in that room had been through over two hours of laughter, pain, empathy and most of all, understanding. These multitudes of stories launched everybody into a remarkable emotional state in a way that only theatre can.
Ever onward, ever forward. James Baldwin wrote that “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” That night, we faced this part of our story through these plays, so that together we can create change.
Given the immense response to the project, we are planning to produce an encore in the coming months. We’ll keep you posted as soon as we know when the next performance is. Sign up for our LWT Community emails for the latest information.
–Elizabeth Nearing, Community Engagement Manager