“I’m always trying to pick work that speaks to issues that are relevant to the community,” said Ron Himes, founder and producing director of The St. Louis Black Repertory Company. “And over the past few years there has been nothing more relevant or more pertinent that Ferguson in St. Louis, on the national – and internationally.”
A week before the five year anniversary of the Ferguson unrest sparked by the killing of unarmed teen Mike Brown at the hands of then Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson, local events that sparked global conversations on race and the relationship between police and the African American community will once again get attention outside of city and county limits. This time it will be through a compelling stage drama that was inspired by the movement.
“Canfield Drive” was written by Kristen Adele Calhoun and Michael Thomas Walker and was presented for the first time by The Black Rep last season. The company will take the show on the road to play The National Black Theatre Festival August 1-3.
Gathering biennially since its inception in 1989, National Black Theatre Festival brings together the black theatre community from around the country to fellowship through workshops, award celebrations and the presentation of new and emerging works. Created by the late Larry Leon Hamlin, The North Carolina Black Rep – also founded by Hamlin – hosts the festival in Winston-Salem.
“As we approach the five-year anniversary of Mike Brown’s killing, I am honored to continue to tell this story,” Calhoun said. “I am deeply grateful for The Black Rep’s investment in this piece and commitment to sharing this show with a national audience. I can’t wait to take this work to The National Black Theatre Festival, and I look forward to being a part of the conversations generated by this play in Winston-Salem and beyond.”
The festival draws tens of thousands of drama professionals committed to bringing the African American experience to the stage from every aspect of the many moving parts that make theater possible – including performance, artistic, administrative and technical/production.
Calhoun also stars in the play that frames the events in Ferguson around two broadcast news personalities with opposing opinions on the unrest and the tragic circumstances that compelled the community to engage in months of nonstop protests.
She will be joined on stage by fellow “Canfield Drive” original cast members Christopher Hickey, Eric Connors and Amy Loui. And as with the Black Rep’s world premiere, Himes will direct the National Black Theatre Festival presentation.
The Black Rep presentation was met with rave reviews and sold-out audiences over its three-week run as part of the company’s 42nd season.
“One of the things that I’m committed to is making sure that we always celebrate the rich canon of literature in African American theater and that we are also adding to it,” Himes said. “I think this will be a very valuable addition to the canon of African American literature for the American stage.”
“Canfield Drive” is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation & Development Fund Project co-commissioned by 651 Arts in partnership with The St. Louis Black Repertory Company, and NPN. The Creation & Development Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The play blends hundreds of interviews and first-hand accounts of those directly impacted by and engaged in the unrest and others with a depth of understanding of the historical framework of the region that created the simmering pot of racial tension, systemic racism and subsequent frustration that boiled over on August 9, 2014.
“If ‘riot is the language of the unheard’, this play aims to understand the killing of Michael Brown and the Ferguson protests by hearing the unheard voices and amplifying those stories,” said Walker. We hope this play will serve as a platform for the necessary conversations about race, culture, privilege, history, and healing.”
The Black Rep’s presentation of “Canfield Drive” at the National Black Theatre Festival will run August 1-3 in the SECCA- McChesney Scott Dunn Auditorium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Tickets are available at www.ncblackrep.org/ or by calling 336-723-2266.