Audience Blog

Audience Blog #4 – Don Harrell (Tampa)

Audience Blog #4 – Don Harrell (Tampa)

Progress Theatre’s “Audience Blog” features responses to live PT performances written exclusively by show attendees we meet on tour.

Which performance is your blog about?The Burnin’ in Tampa, February 2015, and the “Singing for Freedom Building” Workshop in March 2015 at The Ashe Cultural Center in New Orleans.

Was this your first PT show? — No.

When was the last time you made progress? — With me, progress in the sense of the struggle against oppression is a constant.  

Three Is Completion

When I first heard the word PROGRESS coupled with THEATRE, I instantaneously surmised that the company was about art that “lives and breathes.” In other words: “transformative art;” art created with the African paradigm for art making as its model; art designed to make the desirable happen, rather than its European, antithesis “art for art sake.” Since functionality is the component in a work of art that I appreciate most, I anxiously awaited an opportunity to see and feel Progress Theatre in action.

My first “bite at the apple” came when the company presented excerpts of The Burnin’ at Alternate ROOTS’ annual meeting in August 2014. I was truly in awe and mystified by the extraordinary complexity of the story line, the talent and stage presence of the players, and the degree to which the piece successful tackled the thorniest issue of our time: race and class in the 21st century.

In February 2015 I was treated to a second taste, a complete performance of The Burnin’ at the University of South Florida hosted by Art2Action. The timeliness of the production and the creative way that it produces an in your face, “what-you-gone-do-about-it” call-to-action, confirmed the notion that this piece was art aimed at meaningful transformation. As I chewed on my bit, it was clear that The Burnin’ was a salient reminder of how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go, to eradicate the disquieting hegemony that separates us based on color differentiation. The shear genius of the playwright and director Dr. Cristal Chanelle Truscott, the extraordinary poignancy of the play, and the artistry of the players became even more evident as “Jim Crow” collided with the world of the audience. During this full stage performance, the tragedy of the race and class dichotomy played “peek-a-boo” with poignant messaging in the African-centered, African-American nurtured, call and response tradition. I was both transfixed and transformed.

Some say that “three is completion.” Maybe they have a point and maybe they don’t. All I know is that I had the opportunity to experience PT again in March 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana, which was time number three and I was done. The event was a workshop session, led by Cristal and PT that focused on the stories of the Civil Rights era and the Freedom Songs that so completely met the needs of the times. For me, this was precisely what I needed. I was currently teaching units on the very topic to both my college African American Humanity and Evolution of Hip Hop classes. My fellow attendees were similarly nurtured by the incredible workshop that not only featured narrative, core freedom songs, but also Neo-spirituals written and arranged by Dr. Truscott.

Progress Theatre again and again uses the functionality of the art that it creates in the African tradition of call and response, as a call to action to heal the wounds of injustice while doing just that.

Don Harrell is a folklorist whose work is centered on bringing clarity to the beauty of African and African-American life and culture, in opposition to racist attitudes and misinformed ideation. Along with his wife Adetutu , he is co-founder of Orisirisi African Folklore-an award winning performing arts company rooted in the history, culture, and traditions of Africa, that uses storytelling, drumming, dance and song its efforts. Don is a resident of Winter Garden, FL. In addition to his work as a performing artist, arts educator, an arts activist, Don currently serves as a Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Central Florida, Professor of African-American Humanities at Valencia College, and as an Alternate Roots Executive Committee Member.

⇐⇐ Read Audience Blog #3: “Trauma Time” by Naphtali Leyland Fields

Read Audience Blog #5: “Burned” by Camika Spencer ⇒⇒

Progress Theatre

April 7th, 2015

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