In this period of adversity, our country is grappling with anxiety and cross-cultural backlash. Every day our humanity is called into question, lines are drawn, and villains are rebranded. At the center of this percussive dissonance are America’s children. The youth are uniquely situated to bear witness and experience the effects to sociopolitical phenomena such as publicized instances of oppression, mayhem and suicide. This barrage of imagery, coded language, and violence conditions the mind and cuts deep, especially for children of color, as their identities are scrutinized during their development. They are challenged to use their voices while simultaneously germinating their place within society. This process leaves issues unresolved and damages mental health, and with so many communities in turmoil individuals find themselves parroting harmful patterns for survival/satisfaction. Safe spaces are needed.
Kansas City is fortunate to have institutions such as the Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City (BRTKC) that allow students to connect with their peers and find mentorship. Additionally, fledgling artists can explore the diversity of one of man’s most prominent art forms. Storytelling is way of preserving one’s legacy, and black history has been passed down orally in this country for several centuries. This city is perfectly situated as an incubator for progress and innovation, as its roots intersect numerous milestones in our nation’s past and present, with respect to blacks and the arts. Theatre itself has always been a space dedicated to collaboration and functions concurrently to entertain and edify. Recent events, such as Vice President Mike Pence’s viewing of Hamilton, demonstrate the demand for accountability and intersectionality that occurs when a generation understands their allies and adversaries as equals. Cooperative development and function is a trademark of the theatre and is an important part of human culture. What some consider a “dying art form”, many others recognize as a decisive enterprise. This attitude is evident within the company at BRTKC, most significantly for the student participants in the Repertory in School Empowerment program.
As members of a marginalized group, this opportunity is a great but infrequent pleasure. Minority perspectives are frequently coalesced for “collective” consumption, though in the past few years this tendency has proven less than savory for box office success. Furthermore, with black children finding themselves targeted by disputants from all sides and within, in addition to systematic inequity, a tapestry of untapped narrative potential frays. Still, the contribution of black youths in national discourse has room for improvement, and the RiSE program scholars are cognizant of this jeopardy. These students readily tackle topics on life, sexuality, and racial identity and address the bittersweet transition from adolescence into adulthood with mettle. They employ various experimental approaches to prose, and the collaboration is infinitesimally greater than the sum of its parts. Their experiences are deeply personal and ambiguously millennial. They showcase trepidation, questioning the nature of love and justice, and an admirable appetite for knowledge rather than bread and circuses.
One can imagine the difficulty of wrangling children during the summer, but these young artists are in a league of their own; and, as this is the “Show-Me” State, you should see for yourself.
In Their Own Words
Original writings by five students from Ruskin High School will be presented by BRTKC during the Fringe Festival in four performances, from July 22 through July 29, 2017.
Located at The Arts Asylum, 1000 E. 9th Street, Kansas City, MO 64106.
For tickets and information, visit kc-fringe.ticketleap.com/in-their-own-words/