Marilynn Barner Anselmi and Shaunda Miles knew they had stumbled on to something special when the pair met four years ago to do a reading of Anselmi’s thought-provoking play, “You Wouldn’t Expect.”
“I was doing a reading of another play of mine in North Carolina at least four years ago and after the performance we had a question and answer period and a nice elderly gentleman raised his hand and said ‘my granddaughter works at the August Wilson Center and I’d like to send her this work,’ Anselmi said. “Of Course I was floored and when we started emailing I told her I would like for her to read this other play so I sent her ‘You Wouldn’t Expect’ and she really liked it. We did a reading and when Shaunda started her own theater collective (demaskus theater collective), she was touched by the subject matter, as I am, passionate about getting the message out there.”
Eight thousand women were forcibly sterilized under a North Carolina Eugenics program from 1933 to 1973. It was part of a bigger Eugenics program, which sterilized 60,000 women—many of them poor and Black—nationally. In North Carolina, the state-run Eugenics board sterilized the feeble-minded, promiscuous and criminal through social workers, state institutions, training schools and hospitals. “You Wouldn’t Expect” tells the horrific story of several of those individuals.
Founded in 2005, by Shaunda Erikka Miles, demaskus Theater Collective service-oriented collective of professional artists and administrators who produce plays and musicals that make known the messages of the marginalized.
“Demaskus is so fearless in the pieces they put out,” said Okema T. Moore, who portrayed Temperance Hedgepath “The more controversial but poignant the better for them and I think that’s really to be admired. Their fearless leader, Shaunda Miles, really takes part in bringing stories that the average person would maybe be a little too shy to tell and I’m honored that she finds me worthy to be the person to hold the majority of that telling. It’s really an honor and it helps me to better hone my craft.” Moore is an actor, singer, director and producer who has worked for demaskus since 2006. “You Wouldn’t Expect” is her second Pittsburgh production.
“This production fit into demaskus’ mission of bringing the plight of the marginalized to light,” said Miles who also works as the Director of Public Relations for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. “My grandfather, James A Green, III introduced me to Marilynn Barner Anselmi almost four years ago and this show was dedicated to him.” Miles said.
Emotions ran high for both the cast and the audience during the 90-minute production. Anger, hatred, surprise, empathy and sadness were some that bubbled up to the surface. Some of the most intense moments were between Moore’s character and the bigoted but tragic Mary Tom Walker played by Amy Marsalis.
“Mary Tom is the hardest character I have every portrayed,” said Marsalis has worked in theater in Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. “She is the polar opposite of who I really am. I’m honored and humbled to be a part of this cast. This story needed to be told. I had to dig deep to find something good in Mary Tom’s character. She was a victim as well and in her culture things like were swept under the rug that’s how things were.”
Other members of the cast included Karla C. Payne as May Rivers, Michaela Flood as Ginny Rivers, Richard Kenzie as Richard Banor, Shawann Gadson as Nilene Cooper, Delana Flowers as Barbara Lynch and Markus Muzopappa as Mr. Kinley. A chorus of dancers from Reed Dance II choreographed by Greer Reed represented the myriad of emotions that were evoked during “You Wouldn’t Expect.” Those dancers were Deonna Dykes, Dianne Pettis and Charles “Chuck” Timbers Jr.
“You Wouldn’t Expect” was a semi-finalist at the 2013 Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference and presented during the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival, Readers Theatre of New Work in Winston Salem, NC.
“I Felt very very moved,” said Anselmi after the Pittsburgh performance. “The humanity of this crosses racial lines and I’m still shocked that people still don’t know about this I’m convinced it’s because of the victims who were primarily poor Black women. This was the perfect fodder for what theater can do. I wanted people to learn about this and I wanted to tell personal stories. I wanted to give voice to the people that this affected. I wanted the audience to think about this and learn about this and start a dialogue. The way that we keep this from happening to us again is to vote. We can’t let the government have that kind of control over us again.”
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