When Micki Grant and the late Vinnette Carroll paired up to interpret the black struggle through song and dance nearly 50 years ago, they made history.
The cohort of theaters in New York City known as Broadway – the epicenter of drama and the originator of the musical – had been in existence since the Civil War days. Yet it would be 1972 before the first show with music and lyrics written by an African American woman and a black woman director were granted entrance into “the great white way.”
They came at the same time through “Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope,” with Grant as the writer and Carroll as the director.
Next week, the show opens the Black Rep’s 43rd Season at Washington University’s Edison Theatre and features the creative partnership of the company with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater alums Antonio Douthit-Boyd and Kirven Douthit-Boyd.
For nearly five years, the spouses have co-directed COCAdance at COCA – the organization that discovered Antonio’s natural gift for movement as a teen and put him on the fast track for his storied dance performance career that ended as a principal dancer for Ailey.
“It’s such a great thing that Kirven came home with Antonio,” said Ron Himes, Founder and Producing Director of The Black Rep. “We now have a way to let people know that you can be at the top of your game and have a base here. That’s what I really hope that this collaboration will fuel.”
The couple brings their talent to the Black Rep with Kirven as the show’s choreographer and Antonio as a member of the 11-person ensemble.
“I told Ron and Kirven that I was in retirement. Clearly, they don’t get it,” Antonio said with a smile. “Ron demands so much, but he is so giving of his time and his energy and his passion. That it is helping me go back to what I do and just reevaluate how we approach the arts in our communities.”
The couple came to mind as Himes was researching the production to bring the show to the Black Rep stage.
“One of the main things that made me think about Kirven and Antonio was that on Broadway the show was choreographed by George Faison,” said Himes, who also serves as the show’s director. “Reviews talked about the ‘Ailey-esque’ choreography, so I’m like, ‘Okay.’”
According to Himes, the result of the pairing of Antonio and Kirven with the Black Rep has resulted in creative magic and has been a major inspiration.
“Watching the two of them in our rehearsal hall work, I just told Antonio, man, this is such an honor for me – for The Black Rep – to have you all in this rehearsal hall working on this production,” said Himes.
A black musical classic
“It’s really important for us to keep our classics alive because that is how we preserve our heritage and our culture by doing the work of the people whose shoulders we stand on,” Himes said of his decision to present the show after speaking with the show’s creator on how to stage it for the Black Rep.
“Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope” is a creative response to toll that comes with the daily fight of institutionalized racism and the challenges of being black in America, with a system built to make sure the odds are stacked against you.
“The play is very political – and it makes a lot of political statements,” Himes said. “Unfortunately, those same political statements speak to everything we are dealing with today. We have an obligation to get this message across in the most entertaining way that we can.
He has faith in the Douthit-Boyds, the entire ensemble, musicians and the production staff to deliver an unforgettable presentation.
“Incredible dancing, unbelievable singing and wonderful storytelling,” Himes said. “I think that’s what people are going to see.”
Kirven hopes that the audiences will see a piece of themselves over the course of the production for the sake of connection.
“Representation is key – especially in art,” Kirven said. “I hope that each audience member identifies some way in some part and it really makes a deep impact.”
Antonio wants “Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope” to spur viewers into action.
“I want them to be transformed – energized to do something,” Antonio said. “The message is very strong, and I think that they will have no choice but to be shook by the story. I want them to just to wake up and see that the arts are viable to everyone’s lives – and play a major role in the resistance. I want them to wake up, want change and be shook. I want them to become ‘woke.’”
“Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope,” will run September 4- September 22 at the Edison Theatre on the campus of Washington University. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit www.theblackrep.org/ or call (314) 534-3807.