People’s Light has commissioned a series of digital projects in solidarity with those protesting systemic racism, anti-Black violence, and nationwide inaction regarding police brutality. The first commissions to be announced include 2020 Vision, a short film written by Steve H. Broadnax III, co-produced with Penn State Centre Stage Virtual; excerpts from a video series titled “Making a Homeplace: Stories From The Historically Black Neighborhood of Swarthmore” by local artist Jeannine Osayande; and a soon-to-be-released music video for “Brotha George,” the bonus track on Miriam A. Hyman aka Robyn Hood’s current EP Alter EGO. These projects are the first in a series of commissions available to read, listen, or watch for free on the Theatre’s virtual home, People’s Light – Always On.
“In late May 2020, we reached out to a number of Black artists with whom we have relationships to ask how we might use our resources to help elevate Black perspectives and art at this time,” says People’s Light Producing Director Zak Berkman. “From these conversations emerged a series of digital commissions that range widely in form and content — from video to poetry to oral histories — but share a creative impulse that emerges from and speak to this historic moment of activism and reckoning.”
2020 Vision, a co-production with Penn State Center Stage Virtual, is a short film by Steve H. Broadnax III starring Eric B. Robinson Jr. After witnessing on video the murder of George Floyd by police officers, a young Black father contemplates how he can participate in the Black Lives Matter movement and secure his family’s safety. 2020 Vision is available to watch now.
“Never could I imagine 2020 would have ushered in such unprecedented times,” Broadnax says. “COVID-19 and the death of George Floyd have been a wake-up call to us all. One thing I am sure: once you know something, you can never unknow it. I hope our new findings will dismantle unjust systems that promote racist Ideology, institutional bias, interpersonal discrimination, and internal bigotry; and rebuild systems that are truly equitable for all. Change is now!”
Steve H. Broadnax III directed the recent People’s Light productions of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, as well as Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew and Mud Row. His new play with music Bayard Rustin: Inside Ashland had been scheduled to premiere at People’s Light this past spring but has been tentatively rescheduled for the 2021/2022 Season. He has worked extensively throughout the country; directing credits include Signature Theatre New York City, Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, Hattiloo Theatre, Syracuse Stage, Ensemble Studio Theatre Company NYC, Chautauqua Theatre Company, and the Apollo Theatre NYC, to name a few. Website: stevebroadnax.com
Actor Eric B. Robinson Jr. revels in the intersection of performance and social justice and gives many thanks to People’s Light and Penn State Centre Stage for the opportunity to explore the synchronicities that 2020 Vision shares with his own experience as a Black man, father, and husband in America. Robinson Jr. made his People’s Light debut in 2019 as Tyriek in Dominique Morisseau’s Mud Row.
“Making a Homeplace: Stories from the Historically Black Neighborhood of Swarthmore” is an ongoing collection of oral history and identity stories that document the lives of African Americans living in the Historically Black Neighborhood of Swarthmore, PA. In the video excerpts presented by People’s Light, local artist Jeannine Osayande shares three personal stories in different formats: “The Birthday Party Story,” a narration of a defining moment from Osayande’s childhood; “Where I’m From,” a reflective identity poem; and the video haiku “My Skin is My Home,” developed by Osayande in a workshop with the Bartol Foundation called “Mapping Ourselves.”
Jeannine Osayande is a leading voice and historian of the Historically Black Neighborhood of Swarthmore, PA, as well as an activist, teacher, community-builder, choreographer, and master movement and teaching artist of Diasporic West African dance and drum tradition. Her choreography credits include Nina Simone: Four Women and Fences at People’s Light. Osayande is the founder and director of Dunya Performing Arts Company, specializing in Arts Education programming, commissioned choreographic works, and community engagement. Follow on Facebook at Jeannine Osayande & Dunya Performing Arts Company.
“My mission is to add value to my environment and community through Arts, Culture, and Social Change,” she says. “I am a fifth-generation resident from the Historically Black Neighborhood of Swarthmore. I live in a unique neighborhood with folks who established rules for survival and community integrity. Everybody knew each other and the entire neighborhood looked out for each other. Now, with the onslaught of gentrification, we no longer know all our neighbors and the cultural integrity of the community is uncertain. The way things are going, in the next 10 to 20 years our community as we know it will be gone. Recording our stories is paramount.”
“Brotha George” is the bonus track on Miriam A. Hyman aka Robyn Hood’s EP Alter EGO. People’s Light has commissioned a music video for the song that will be available to watch on Always On later this summer. Hyman is an actor of stage, television, and film, last seen at People’s Light in a Community Matters presentation of Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed. Her rap moniker is Robyn Hood. Follow on Instagram @robynhoodmusic; Twitter: @robynhoodmusic and @miriamahyman; Facebook: Miriam A. Hyman and Robyn Hood Music.
“Alter EGO was released on all music platforms at 8:46 am,” Hyman explains. “This time was to honor the unlawful murder of George Floyd. With the song ‘Brother George,’ I honor him and recognize the many unarmed Black and brown individuals who have been killed by policeman or those who have the law on their side. I also acknowledge the existence of so many, including Tony McDade, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner.”
“As a predominantly white institution, People’s Light has long benefited from and perpetuated the racist systems that contribute to the violence, discrimination, and marginalization towards Black people that persist today,” adds People’s Light Executive Artistic Director Abigail Adams. “True change must be rigorously ongoing, and we are currently crafting an Anti-Racism action plan that both reflects on our past and looks to the future. This series of commissions is one small, immediately tangible way we can support Black artists right now. We hope you will watch, listen, and amplify.”
Black Lives Matter.
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