The Death of a Black Man (a walk by)
You can't understand a man, the proverb goes, until you've walked a mile in his shoes. But who, among us, has tasted the paranoia, dread and loss from gun violence that is, shockingly, common to urban high schoolers and their families? "The Death of a Black Man (A Walk By)" suggests the experience poetically, using using hip hop verse, chanting, songs and poetry. The audience walks through a variety of uniquely-designed theater spaces and environments suggesting the events before and after a shooting in an urban playground. It's like a day lived with urban gun violence, complete with a candle lit memorial service, police investigations, protests and the actual shootings. The piece was scheduled for June to support Gun Awareness Month.
It's an immersive experience allowing the audience to see and feel what affected kids are thinking through their own poetry and rap. Too many kids go to school today carrying pistols instead of books in their backpacks. While we are focused on their test scores, they are focused on surviving. In this play, the audience will feel what it's like to be a kid in the schools, or to be in their neighborhood and experience their life. We witness black kids and white kids speculating on what each other are thinking. A young girl soliloquizes about a police tower--a source of lights and surveillance--that is supposed to keep them safe. Media reports are flashed with stories of gun violence from the news (tragically, there are so many to choose from). The production also employs strobe lights, live drums, moving projections and an array of sound effects. It's all called "A Walk By" because the audience experiences the grief of gun violence through walking by it.
The plot is carried in a series of vignettes, some of which are sometimes intercut and played out of order for dramatic effect. A girl named Teela and her friends encounter a secretly armed tough named Sweets in school and "diss" him. At noon time, he seeks out the girls, looking for Teela, and shoots the wrong one, Nina. The school cancels after school programs and everybody goes home. But Teela's protective brother, Boo, gets a gun and goes looking for Sweets. Teela also gets a gun, fearing for her life. A shootout ensues in the playground. Two other girls fall as well as Teela, Boo and Sweets. The toll is six kids in one day. The play includes not only these events, but also the police investigations, funerals, deliberations by school administrators and reactions of neighbors and families. There are projections of inner city buildings and police cars; the playground is suddenly assembled with fences on wheels. Church Pews on wheels glide into the playing area to suggest the location for a funeral.
The actors are Chriz Zaborowski, Natasha Velez, Levern Williams, Damon Trammell, Carleton King, Brittney Benson, Brandon Mellette, Nestor Carillo, Sebastian Gutierrez, Dominique Koo, Scarlett Elizabeth, Sarah Shah, Caroline Banks, Kaylin Reed and Marjolaine Goldsmith. Set design is by Mark Marcante and Lytza Colon. Costumes and props are by Susan Hemley. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff. Technical design is by Alex Santullo. Percussion is by Chriz Zaborowski.
Staff for "The Death of a Black Man (A Walk By)" includes Megan Horan (Stage Manager), Randy Simon (Production Coordinator), Jeff Pennington (Stage Coordinator), Erikka James (Graphics/Poster Designer) and Jonathan Slaff (Press Representative).