Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Sean Bell. The African-American male stereotype that has gripped national headlines in recent years has taken mainstream media by storm. But these divisive stories will hit close to home on stage at Balch Street Theatre.
“…Or Does it Explode?” is a live production that explores the African-American male identity and misrepresentations commonly assumed or portrayed by the media. A collaboration among Ma’Sue Productions, Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture (C.A.T.A.C.) and Kent State University’s Department of Pan African Studies, the play explores the modern African-American male experience through a composite of real-life stories collected and compiled from Akron residents.
“What’s so ironic about the piece is that when we first went into doing it, Ferguson, New York, none of it had happened,” said India Burton, the show’s co-producer. “It’s a terrible time, but it’s relevant. And it’s always been relevant, but now it makes it even more urgent.”
John Dayo Aliya, who co-wrote the show, says the play aims to answer one key question.
“Who are these people (black men) really? There’s no salient answer,” he said. “There’s many different black men. There’s many different experiences. And that’s kind of what this show attempts to explain.”
The concept was sparked from collaboration on a project highlighting diversity with Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts. Burton and Aliya then set out to produce a piece that was not only relevant, but also engaging to a modern audience.
“The challenge is in making sure that you are writing material that will be engaging,” Aliya said. “I think that if you write engaging pieces, if you write pieces that are socially relevant, that are contemporary, that make sense to people and fit in their lives, I think you can have them there for three hours, as long as the show keeps moving.”
The brother and sister duo brought in four local actors to star in the production who collectively bring over 25 years’ acting experience to the stage.
Actor Tyson Sebree, a self proclaimed Ma’Sue “newbie,” has enjoyed being involved in the production.
“It’s a very unique and very powerful thing that we’re doing here,” he said. “And I’ve been incredibly honored to be a part of this cast and to learn so much from these guys that are just amazing at what they do.”
The show aims to make people think, and that means the music, monologues, and poetry weave together more than a storyline — they hit social issues and sensitive topics of race head-on.
Actor Cristoffer Carter said in this performance, “we hold no punches,” and that the production is designed to make audiences feel uncomfortable.
“If there’s a certain topic we’re talking about,” he explained, “we’re going to talk about it directly in a way that people will understand it, in a way that this generation understands things.”
In addition to the social construct of the production, Aliya had another motive in mind when setting out to write.
“I also wanted to make a show that was black theatre,” he said, “that was utilizing black actors, that was more poetic, that was interesting and maybe a little avant-garde. I’ve been wanting to do that for awhile, so I just kind of combined the two ideas, and that birthed the show.”
The production uses music, poetry, and even Shakespearean style prose, to share the stories of African-American men from Akron, ages 16 to 35, and to contemplate the contemporary black male experience.
“I think it’s something that, it doesn’t matter who you are, what race you are, what culture you are, it’s something you need to see,” Sebree said. “You need to question your preconceived notions. You need to question the world around you.”
“…Or Does It Explode?” runs from Oct. 8 through 18, with special performances at Kent State from Oct. 23 through 25. Tickets can be ordered presale here. For more information, or to follow Ma’Sue Productions, visit their Facebook page.
|(Ticket & Performance Information)
$12 at the door
Oct. 8-10, 8 p.m.
Oct. 11, 2 p.m.
Oct. 16-18, 8 p.m.
Oct. 23-25, at Kent State