Although there was a script, there was so much more than mere theater on the stage of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. There was a rite of passage, a catharsis, a purging of the soul, a “laying on” of hands and healing of the spirit. It was a communal cleansing from a deathly conspiracy of deep silence finally unbroken in a story circle.
“Uprise: Raising Black Men Project,” is the culmination of months of discussions, interviews and documentation through an engagement process with local arts, social service, criminal justice and education organizations. Led by siblings Carlton and Maurice S. Turner, collectively known as M.U.G.A.B.E.E. (Men Under Guidance Acting Before Early Extinction), and recorded by videographer Christopher Ivey, it yielded the ingredients for a hardy, spicy gumbo brewed by August Wilson Fellow (and New Pittsburgh Courier contributor) Tameka Cage served up over the weekend—“Testimony.”
The stories of Pittsburgh’s Black men are rarely told, much less heard, as first-person accounts. They are the aspirations of young men beginning to make their mark, those who grew up with and (or) without their father’s influence, the men who live the consequences of their choices and the ones who simply remember, recall and share their accumulated wisdom.
Cage’s script simmers with attitudes, differences, conflicts and commonalities and reaches a boiling point of truth, triumphs and tears much more potent than machismo and testosterone. The countenance and nuances of Black men season the directing by Mark Clayton Southers, AWC’s artistic director of theater initiatives, who likened the creative process to “an awakening.”
Southers called on his roots (and production team) from Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company to conjure the set of a community center basement in a former church that essentially projected into and made the theatre audience an “amen corner” as the onstage dialogue frequently drew a call of response.
“Testimony” is truly an ensemble piece drawing on the talents of local theater veterans, theatre “babes” who’ve grown up on the stage including Jonathan Berry, Jonas Chaney, David Conley, Lonzo Green, Michael Jackson, Carter Redwood, Devaughn Robinson, Leslie Ezra Smith, Khalil Stanback, Emmanuel Walker, Joshua Wilder and Broadway’s Tony Award nominee Anthony Chisholm.
“Testimony” serves as proof of the depth of the talent in Pittsburgh Black community. The portrayals on stage are not caricature or stereotype but bring a sense of tangible authenticity.
Fortunately for all of us, “Uprise: Raising Black Men Project” and “Testimony” will have an afterlife.
The play and its creative process of story circles and interviews will be compiled on a DVD that will be ready for distribution in the fall; and something more profound can result if we truly discern what was presented—continuing of the dialogue presented on stage, moving past the misconceptions and misperceptions of our image of Black men and begin a new era of understanding.