“We’re thrilled to be partnering with CTG on its first-ever Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre,” said Sachs. “It’s particularly meaningful to us that ‘Citizen’ was chosen because racism and white dominance in America is as timely now, since the election, as it ever was. The project also reflects the diversity of our work at the Fountain Theatre.”
The Fountain Theatre’s world stage premiere of Citizen earned rave reviews and an extended run in 2015. The Los Angeles Times heralded it as “Powerful” and highlighted it Critic’s Choice. Stage Raw declared it “a transcendent theatrical experience,” later honoring Stephen Sachs with the Stage Raw Theatre Award for Best Adaptation.
The original cast featured Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick, Lisa Pescia. The extended run included Monnae Michaell, Karen Malina White, and Nikki Crawford.
A meditation on race that fuses poetry, prose, movement, music and the video image, Citizen: An American Lyric is a provocative stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s internationally acclaimed book of poetry about everyday acts of racism in America. Of Rankine’s Citizen, The New Yorker wrote that it was “brilliant… explores the kinds of injustice that thrive when the illusion of justice is perfected.” The New York Times wrote that “Rankine brilliantly pushes poetry’s forms to disarm readers and circumvent our carefully constructed defense mechanisms against the hint of possibly being racist ourselves.”
Center Theatre Group received seventy-six submissions for its new Block Party program and selected three local intimate theatre productions. It will also remount Coeurage Theatre Company’s production of Failure: A Love Story by Philip Dawkins, and Echo Theater Company’s production of Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel. Each production will have a two-week run presented April 14 through May 21, 2017.
The selected shows will receive the full support of Center Theatre Group and its staff in order to fund, stage and market each production. Full casting will be announced at a later date. Tickets will go on sale to the general public in February.
Citizen: An American Lyric at Pure Theatre in Charleston
Stephen Sachs‘ award-winning stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, created, developed and produced last year at the Fountain Theatre, opens tonight at the Pure Theatre in Charleston, S.C. The play about racism in America will be performed as the city marks the one-year commemoration of the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel Church. The Pure Theatre is located just four blocks from the church.
In the aftermath of the shooting last June, Pure Theatre artistic director Sharon Graci was searching how to use theatre to express the grief and rage of the community. Sachs’ adaptation of Citizen was brought to her attention by one of the cast members of the Fountain Theatre production, Bernard K. Addison, a South Carolina native who knew someone who knew Graci. Once Graci read the script, she knew she had found what she was looking for.
Citizen: An American Lyric at the Fountain Theatre
“We are a nation in crisis,” says Graci. “And our communities are infected with both macro and micro aggressions against persons of color, and until we make a conscious decision to acknowledge the reality of this, we will not engage in meaningful dialogue, we will not change the status quo. We will remain a fractured society eating itself alive from the inside.”
Highlighted as Critic’s Choice and hailed “powerful” in the Los Angeles Times, the Fountain’s 2015 world premiere earned national attention and critical acclaim in an extended run. Sachs’ script won the Stage Raw Award for Best Adaptation.
Directed by Shirley Jo Finney — who also helmed the world premiere at the Fountain — Citizen at Pure Theatre is an event of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, Charleston’s 17-day annual celebration of the arts. Citizen runs June 3 – 10.
Leith Burke in ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre.
by Rick Chertoff
With the current discussion on race and apartheid in Israel/Palestine, Citizen couldn’t be more timely.
Only seconds into Citizen: An American Lyric you’ll find yourself at the “ground zero” of any black person’s life in this country, faced with the inevitability of how it is, how it always has been, and how it looks like it always will be, to be the “Other,” and it presses on you. You realize you are up against the implacable determination — you could even say a majority conspiracy — that your life matters less than others and that in an instant (any instant), it could be time for a large or small dose of humiliation…or it could be time for a ritual killing. You are perpetually “it.”
What does it feel like to be Black in America? That question is the Gordian Knot of the American psyche. Racism is the drug of choice against painful self-knowledge in every society. Here in the U.S. it is in great measure dedicated to the denial of black suffering and of black value. The question of white supremacy and black suffering has asserted itself more forcibly now than at any time since the end of the civil rights movement. As the ubiquity of hand-held cameras has repeatedly revealed, there is a structural violence deeply embedded in American society, even if most Americans are decent people who want to believe that Black Lives Matter.
The superb writing and acting in Citizen are realized as the six actors, each of whom star in small vignettes throughout this play, portray how casual everyday interactions can transform a fellow citizen … a human being … into objects of scorn by simple, stereotyped perceptions and behaviors that are driven by a submerged dark historical force that surfaces regularly to devour black people.
Bernard K. Addison, Simone Missick, Leith Burke.
The stories carried by this monster force are fantasies that say white supremacy isn’t real, that racism exists because of inferior and defective black culture, that force is all that keeps them from devouring us, and that (the savages) are supported by naïve do-gooders, or “trouble makers.” This is done subtly or brazenly by liberal and reactionary political forces using consolidated media to dismiss, distort, or exoticize the ritual violence (e.g. Geraldo Rivera), thus robbing us of understanding. “Blame the victim” is the default. The only effective weapon against this dehumanization is the humanization of all by all, and that must include listening to authentic and un-corporate black voices, which are typically marginalized. By breaking the taboo against hearing and feeling the whole of black experience, including the pain, this play lays bare the mechanism woven into the fabric of American life, thus exorcizing the demon, one audience at a time.
Of course this dilemma of shifting perceptions is perfect for a drama as it contrasts conflicting and complimentary personas that vie and coexist in our social interactions; “individuality” and community, equality and privilege, dominance and “loving thy neighbor.” For example, the property owner likes the prospective renter until they turn out to be black. More contemporaneously, the lack of using a turn signal is an innocuous infraction unless it was a black turn signal, at which point the penalty is death. Another “bad cop”? Another bad department?
Tony Maggio and Leith Burke
Robbed of accuracy and context, racism can seem incidental through the filters of white privilege, filters that have been refined for 400 years. Once the filters are called out, it can be revealed as systematic and structural. The data proving the systematic nature of institutional racism has been amply available to anyone who cared to look for a long time, but it has not changed our murderous system. Can drama?
Throughout this play, I found myself amazed that the inner voices of black people could be so faithfully portrayed. It was like looking at Michaelangelo’s Pieta where Mary is holding her dead son. In both we are deeply moved. How did they accomplish this in Citizen? They insisted on granular accuracy, both in writing and in acting, that renders a depth to each reality explored so thoroughly that it is fully felt — and these are hard realities. As spelled out in the subtitle and the blurb, Citizen: An American Lyric, “A provocative meditation on race in America,” it does have the quality of a six-person meditation, and yes, this play is very lyrical. It moves freely between everyday speech and carefully worked and compellingly elegant poetry using selected pieces of the black stream of consciousness, and very musically so. At times the lines seemed fragmentary creating precarious tensions that always resolve, as freely as a jazz improvisation or a Brahms string quartet.
But I find the words “provocative meditation” the best description, because the entire play substitutes the arc of meaning for the arc of plot, which produces something akin to soaring.
“Black lives matter” becomes real by bearing witness to the black and white lives in this play through the enlivening skills of six excellent actors, their director, and an authentically original writer.
The American lyric of Citizen matters.
Rick Chertoff is an activist on behalf of Palestinian rights and an organizer with LA Jews for Peace. This post originally appeared in The Markaz.
The company of CITIZEN with author Claudia Rankine (standing with scarf, 3rd from left) on Fountain stage after last night’s reading.
A thrilling new project came to life last night on stage at the Fountain with the first-ever reading of the new stage adaptation of Citizen: American Lyricby Claudia Rankine. The book about race in America has earned international acclaim, winning the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and is a finalist for the PEN Award.
Adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, the cast for last night’s reading included Bernard Addison, Chris Butler, Tina Lifford, Simone Missick, Linda Park, Amy Pietz, and Larry Poindexter. A new work in development, it was the first public reading of the script. The response from the audience was very enthusiastic, the excited buzz after the reading filled the Fountain with electricity.
Citizen: An American Lyric is a provocative meditation on race fusing prose, poetry, and the visual image. A lyric poem, snapshots, vignettes, on the acts of everyday racism. Remarks, glances, implied judgments. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV — everywhere, all the time. Those did-that-really-just-happen-did-they-really-just say-that slurs that happen every day and enrage in the moment and later steep poisonously in the mind. And, of course, those larger incidents that become national or international firestorms. As Rankine writes, “This is how you are a citizen.”
The world premiere stage adaption is scheduled to open this summer at the Fountain Theatre. More Info