“I’ve wished death on myself many times but this was never my idea”, an excerpt from The Intersection.
The Intersection, a new play in development by Brittney S. Harris and directed by Marlon Andrew Burnley, explored the depths of equality, justice, and mental health awareness through theatrical performance. This project focused on the life of Black Lives Matter activist Sandra Bland and the last hour before her body was discovered in her jail cell on July 13, 2015. While there are plenty of news and social media commentary surrounding Bland’s case, there is more beyond the headlines! Behind this talented, vividly expressive humanitarian lived a woman who was plagued by societal expectations of ‘being a strong black woman’ and riddled with the possible bouts of mental illness. This play is a fictionalized dramatization of her final moments. The staged reading and talkback provided an open forum for conversation about the adverse effects of social media in the African American community and stigmas surrounding mental health awareness and illness.
Methodological Approach(es): Theatre of the Oppressed (Augusto Boal); Call and Response Theatre;
One of my main concepts is called “Drama to Drama”: taking the headlines to the stage. The headlines and social media play a crucial part in our everyday interactions. Sometimes covering the goodness in the world, majority of the news reports and trending topics are of negative nature. I have found a niche for “breathing life into the black and white” and performing the oppressed and silenced side of the headlines.
As I approached my one-woman show The Intersection, a play about the last hours of Black Lives Matters activist Sandra Bland, I explored the following Theatre of the Oppressed Forum Theatre exercise to assess overlaying adversities plaguing the African-American community. In true Boalian style, during our two-month development process, we began each of our rehearsals with exercises specific in creativity and connecting with my five senses. The purpose of this activity was to evolve a piece of theatre where my personal experiences of oppression were the focus of the session. From there, I employed other theatrical techniques such as Chekhov’s Psychological Gesture to create Sandra Bland’s distinct physical and vocal characterizations.
Much like Boal’s socio-political background, my one-woman show served as a conversational piece with the ‘unbreakable black woman’: an oppressed and often misunderstood entity in American society. Black women were often deemed as ‘the Jezebel or sex symbol’ or even the ‘Mammie’; because of this tragic misunderstanding, I modeled my show around disbarring such accusations and telling a different side of the “narrative”. Over the past year, I have been delving into extensive research, between articles and archival information, to develop this one-woman show. The show provided a candid forum for conversations about the issues of African Americans and their plight of mental illness. Much like the challenges of PTSD, the constant portrayal of African-American lives being taken by police brutality or at the hands of racists/sexists individuals presents an oppressed mindset and sense of anxiety/depression in the black community.
As I further develop The Intersection, I will continue to explore Boalian techniques involving more audience participation and interaction: perhaps even having an audience member step into the scene of the traffic stop between the officer and Sandra Bland. Utilizing this Theatre of the Oppressed approach will provide an intricate alternative look at the situation at hand.
Each performance had community outreach elements including a talkback discussion about the artistic process of developing and performing The Intersection and subsequent negative effects of violence in the media on POC millennials.
Harris, B. S. Breathing Life into the Black and White: Performing Sandra Bland.