The Body Politic

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“You don’t have to agree with what I do with my body, but it’s my body.”- Betty Devoe

“The play has so many elements to it that when you try to explain it, you just can’t”. That’s the way panel host Isaac Gomez put it and the audience couldn’t agree more. Oppression, identity, victimization, ownership, freedom. These are the words audiences used to describe what ‘The House That Will Not Stand’ was about.

On July 1, Victory Gardens was joined by Betty Devoe, the co-founder of the Sex Workers Outreach Project Chicago, a Chicago based Dominatrix, independent feminist porn producer, sex worker, and owner of Devoe Productions, and Cruel Valentine, an award-winning, international burlesque entertainer and adult model in a special panel, an under explored post-show conversation demystifying myths and shedding light to sex work and sex trafficking in our world today, and so the Body Politic panel began.

“I imagine it can be very empowering and very disempowering at the same time” Devoe said when asked about the plasage system she then brings the idea to today’s situation with sex work. She talks about how both relate to this idea of survival for the person “what other choices do you have?”. “It was kind of the first example of woman being able to use sex work to raise status.” Relating it to empowerment of today while at the same time Cruel Valentine compares it to how sex work at times is seen as an act of survival. Seeing this as the evolution of sex work going for survival to choice

“Sex work is emotional labour” Valentine replies when asked about how sex work has translated and evolved from the time of ‘The House That Will Not Stand’ to today. Our panelist then begin to point out the interesting point that everything in this world is transactional, bringing up the idea that even in a monogamous relationship sex is transactional, even if neither partner identifies as a sex worker.

Where are we now, in terms of sex work?
Devoe talks about how the nation is very divided on sex work. Devoe compares it to another hot button issue in the nation, but one we talk about; abortion: “It’s your body, your choice”, Devoe talks about how sex worker activist are changing attitudes of many people they have encountered while working with SWOP. “You don’t have to agree with what I do with my body, but it’s my body. I have a Right to do with it what I want”.

Afterwards the floor was open to audience questions where we debunked myths about pimps, family of sex workers, and independent workers.

As we wrapped up the night, Host Isaac Gomez asked what the audience would walk away with. One Patron said he would be leaving with the question. “What if we had more open talks about Sex Work? Where could we go with that?”, leaving the theatre and this powerful conversation with the simple question of; what if.

#LEMONADE #blackgirlmagic

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Written by Preston Choi, Literary & Public Programs Assistant

The King of Cups. The Six of Pentacles. The Page of Swords.
From these three tarot cards Jasmine Barber divines that a giving and taking is in order.
This is true not just for the person getting their cards read, but for the Victory Garden’s lobby as a whole.

On Thursday June 30th, #Lemonade, a celebration of black girl magic took place at Victory Gardens. The lobby swelled with audience members and artists, creators and witnesses side by side. The painting pictured above began at the start of the evening as an outline in the sketchbook of Tita Thomas, but as the event began to gather steam, so did her painting. Paint smeared, water poured, and by the end of the night a blank canvas became a dialogue between Beyonce’s album and and the women artist’s work being done in the theater.

At a nearby table Jasmine Barber read people’s cards, tarot cards. A form of divination dating back hundreds of years, for the purposes of guidance and understanding. She mutters the inquirer’s question under her breath as she shuffles the cards before she reveals them to her eager audience. Not too far away, up a flight of stairs, another spiritual service was being provided. Angelique Nelson gave Reiki massages, quietly away from the crowd. The Reiki healing technique involves the channeling of energy into the patient by means of touch, to activate natural healing processes.

As black girl magic was seen and felt, so was it heard. The first to the mic was Ireon Roach, First Place in the 2016 August Wilson Monologue Competition, who in 30 minutes that day, had created a spoken word piece for the evening titled ‘Speak’. “This energy doesn’t come easy,” a simple yet powerful phrase, one of many within her stream of consciousness.

Kristiana Rae Colón performed after; Colón recently had her play “florissant & canfield” in VG’s reading series. Among her words, a quote, ‘just because we’re not magic, doesn’t mean we’re not real’. An echo to the recent speech given by Jesse Williams at the BET awards. While Ireon’s words spoke from the world of young women, Kristiana spoke from the experience of a grown woman; A slow burning bonfire in contrast to the verbal spitfire fireworks.

The night ended in song and call and response led by Kiara Lanier. The music began and she started barefoot, taking out her birth control pills and leaving them behind in a pile of dirt. Then grabbing the mic her voice serenaded the room, calling on them to speak with her, sing with her. A clap rhythm began and all energy focused in, together.

The song came to a close, the last cards were shuffled, and with the painting finished, The House That Will Not Stand was ready to begin. From the contemporary to the historical, #blackgirlmagic is alive and thriving and beautiful.

The Truth About Color

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(From left to right) Moderator and Literary Manager, Cast: Penelope Walker, Diana Coates, Aneisa Hicks, Angela Alise, Jacqueline William, and Lizan Mitchell

Written by Hannah Greenspan, Literary & Public Programs Assistant

Color: light, dark, period.

Oxford English Dictionary defines colorism as prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.

Colorism has a long history in the United States, with its roots tracing back to slavery. Slave owners typically gave preferential treatment to slaves with fairer complexions by allowing them to work in tasks that were far less grueling than darker skinned slaves.

“There is an attached value and status that comes with hue. All of these things have weight on the content of your character, which are all based on hue.” -Jacqueline Williams (Makeda)

Lizan Mitchell, who plays the matriarch, Beartrice in The House That Will Not Stand, discussed her upbringing in North Carolina and the struggles she saw and experienced within the community between having light or dark skin. It’s important that we try to find the root of it, so we can discuss it, heal from it, and move on.

“She’s pretty for a dark skinned girl”, is a comment that sums up colorism for Angela Alise, who portrays Maude Lynn.

How can we become more aware of colorism in our society? How can we become allies and help other people of color regarding colorism?

Colorism is something that is still unfortunately, very present in our society. It’s something that is closer than we think, and closer than we’d like to admit.

There’s a brief moment in the play where Agnes tells the youngest sister, Odette the truth and the reality about her value based on her skin tone, and that moment was particularly challenging to work on during the rehearsal process, according to the cast.

For the actress who portrays Odette, Aneisa Hicks explains that performing that scene every night is tough. When she first read the script, Aneisa knew that scene was going to be hard on her because colorism is something that she deals with everyday. She further elaborates on how she sometimes feels less than when she is with her lighter skinned friends. But by performing this scene every night, Aneisa is bringing this topic to the forefront.

Before the conversation came to an end, Isaac Gomez, our moderator and Literary Manager at Victory Gardens, asked the audience to just think about how we carry ourselves in a group setting.

Who are we addressing first? And why are we addressing this specific person first? Is it because they are just physically closer to me? Or is it because they have a lighter skin tone? In what ways do we see our own unconscious bias based on skin color?

We may not have been able to solve colorism today, but we all left with knowing that this was a conversation worth having and worth continuing.

TOWN HALL: CASTING NOTICE

A community gathering on race & casting
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Watch the Facebook Live videos: https://www.facebook.com/victorygardens/
Follow our Twitter: @victorygardens or with the hashtag #castingnotice

Last night, Victory Gardens Theater hosted a Town Hall conversation centering on race and casting attended by 250 artists and arts leaders in the Chicago community that began with a panel conversation before opening the floor as an open forum for asking hard questions and sharing best practices and actionable takeaways.

Our panel consisted of moderator Morgan Greene (Chicago Tribune), Monty Cole (Artistic Programs Manager, Victory Gardens Theater), Emjoy Gavino (Founder and Producer, The Chicago Inclusion Project), Bear Bellinger (Performer, Activist), Adam Belcuore (Associate Producer and Director of Casting, Goodman Theatre), and Sandra Delgado (Actor, Playwright and member of the Alliance of Latino Theater Artists in Chicago).

This journey is a long one and we are thankful for our community and their willingness to share thoughts and engage in this necessary conversation. The following is a transcript of last night’s conversation in four sections:
1. How do we define casting?
2. What are some problematic and effective practices?
3. Short term solutions for improving the system?
4. Open questions and responses from artists present.

How do you define the act of casting:

  • Adam: For me casting is a design profession…that you have an opportunity to design a vision…to find the resources to help tell the story. It’s a collaborative field, and you can bring a creative and thoughtful and responsible approach to that, but I think it’s a design profession, much like your set, lights…
  • Monty: Casting is like…imagining a bunch of alternate universes…in which each actor that comes in could be that part, could be the lead, could be the supporting role, whatever… and depending on everyone on the team, the ultimate production will be the manifestation of one of those universes.
  • Bear: I almost think of casting as gatekeepers – who decides who gets in the room even in the first place. That lens is powerful but we don’t talk about it often enough.
  • Emjoy: Casting is the liaison between director and people you’re ushering into the production. Most often I think of myself as an advocate.
  • Sandra: Casting for me is being part of a small theatre company…for twenty years, and when I first branched out of Collaboraction I realized I…was in this Latina box. Casting is getting a call from a theatre company you’ve wanted to work with forever and they say, ‘We’re doing a farce’ and you saying, ‘Ooh wow I’ve never done a farce before!’ and them saying, ‘We’re thinking of going Latina with the maid’ and you saying, ‘No…’”

Problematic and Effective Practices:

  • Bear: I will read the entirety of every script I’m called in for to know the context and whether I feel comfortable being true to that story. We all love the idea that we can all play any role but the stage picture itself matters, especially in representing other cultures.
  • Monty: Each company should have its own set of values. When a company doesn’t have diversity in their mission, it’s reflected in their production history. There needs to be an initial conversation between playwright/director/AD and then the casting director gets to work.
  • Sandra: There is a brainwashing that white is the default. There’s an assumption that characters listed in cast breakdowns without a specific ethnicity are white. What I’d like to see is what’s in our DNA – making theatre a reflection of the world I see when I walk outside.
  • Monty: When is it right for white people to be in the play? When is it problematic for people of color to be in it? What helps the story?
  • Emjoy: I ask the director: “How diverse can we be? How fixed are you on this, this, and this? For example, these people have to be 24, these people have to look related. But nothing else is mandatory. That opens up a whole world.
  • Bear: There are some shows that are going to be white shows, and that has to be something we have to be okay with, and we have to say, ‘Okay, what else can we do now?’
  • Adam: Where is our unconscious bias? We need to be challenging our initial vision whenever possible, to see if it’s rooted in a set of assumptions that are antiquated. This needs to be talked about beyond the theater. When we’re at the bar having cocktails, can we talk about race? Can we talk about representation? I took a workshop on unconscious bias. That’s a helpful thing to learn about yourself!

Short-term solutions to improving the system:

  • Emjoy: What are the stories you’re telling, and how inclusive can that be? That’s the number one thing.
  • Bear: Who are the people in that room making those decisions? If you’re looking at your staff or your ensemble and it’s a bunch of white guys, there’s something wrong.
  • Monty: How do we find and support artists within the disability community? It’s amazing how little we know about the talent, and how hard it is to get the resources to find the talent.
  • Emjoy: We’re so fragmented that we don’t even know how to get to the artists, and they don’t know if we’re looking for them. If there are literally no people in this enormous city, in the country, then maybe look outside that community.
  • Monty: If you don’t have someone who can play the central role, don’t program that play. How properly are you representing this community by not doing it right?
  • Bear: Maybe we didn’t find someone with cerebral palsy to play that role, but then what are you doing to foster connections with that community? There should be at least one person in the room.
  • Sandra: You have to create your own content. A lot of institutions are just waking up, and they didn’t realize they were asleep.
  • Bear: The idea of starting a Minority Actor Database was that we all have people calling us saying, ‘Oh, I’m looking for an actress of this minority, of this race or background so we wanted to start a database of self-identification and let people opt-in to whatever they feel comfortable identifying as. Then we can use this to share with folks looking for these actors.
  • Bear: You self-identify…in a multiplicity of ways and then it gets filtered into a spreadsheet. Then casting directors and other folks can email chicagoaoc@gmail.com with what they’re looking for.
  • Emjoy: It’s more than just looking at an actor’s last name and thinking that maybe they’re of a certain race.
  • Bear: I’d say we are reflecting our future, not our past.
  • Adam: Casting isn’t the solution, necessarily…There’s diversity needed on many levels.

Open questions and responses from artists present:

  • Audience member to Sandra Delgado: Through Actor’s Equity EEO & Diversity committee, what are they doing to increase actual opportunities for actors of color other than one meaningless clause?
    • Sandra: Not enough. Hosting Shakespeare workshops, meet and greets with casting directors. We know the theaters that are behind the times. That’s something we’re working on.
  • Audience member: It’s not about authenticity, it’s about color. The first American I ever played was a month ago at the Goodman. And I’m an American. What the goal for a lot of people of color…is not when you’re looking for an Indian guy you look in a database and find him…but when you need a guy who’s in his late twenties who just graduated from law school, that’s when we get called in. I want to get called in, and I don’t. And when it says Boyfriend, there are people in wheelchairs who are boyfriends. I was told I couldn’t audition for a play because they were only seeing Americans.
  • Audience member: But who is listening to the story? Who’s actively being mined and bussed into the audience?”
  • Audience member: We’re in the business of telling stories. You need to be able to tell those stories that are underrepresented.
  • Audience member: Advice to underrepresented artists who break ground in first production?
    • Emjoy: Stay strong.
    • Bear: Don’t be afraid to speak up. You have to find your people.
    • Monty: Lead by example.
    • Emjoy: To show that it’s possible for people who don’t know that it’s possible.
  • Audience member: I’ve been ten years in the game wondering what is my identity because so much of it has been hoisted on me. I am not just these surface labels and I had to decide that for myself and stand by it.
  • Audience member: There is also importance of mentoring. You can be a dark brown girl with natural hair and be a lover.
  • Bear: Keep growing your community. If I see another person of color at an audition who I don’t know, I’m going up and introducing myself.
  • Audience member: I keep asking myself, I don’t wanna be the difficult one, I don’t wanna talk out loud. You wanna do your artistry, but you can’t. If you wanna know about a Latino playwright, go to their plays! Support smaller theater companies who’ve been doing this work for years. We need to be seeing each other’s plays.
  • Bear: We can continue to be the marketing team. On supporting work that’s doing it right. Word of mouth matters.

The conversation around race and casting is ongoing. As with everything else, possible outcomes are determined on an individual basis and in providing this platform for artists to share, discuss, and question the role they play in the casting process, we hope individual artists will continue the dialogue and lead charges and initiatives that will bring us closer to a more equitable state in casting and beyond.

An Inside Look at HILLARY AND CLINTON

with excerpts by Hutch Pimentel, Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation Observer and HILLARY AND CLINTON Assistant Director Kevin Reyes

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KEVIN REYES: Audiences attending Hillary and Clinton may well be confused when they walk into the theatre and see two actors who look nothing like their real-world counterparts portraying the characters of Hillary and Bill. This, however, is all according to plan.

HUTCH PIMENTAL: On the first day of rehearsal, after we read through the script for the first time, playwright Lucas Hnath made a quick announcement: “Throw out your dramaturgy packets. They won’t be helpful. They might actually be harmful.” What we thought we knew about the world we were creating would not serve us.

The intention of this is to create an experience called “stereoscopic theatricality”. “It’s a terribly pretentious term,” Lucas said in The Wall Street Journal. “But if you tell people, ‘Here’s a person you already know,’ and then you do some things contrary to the image they hold in their heads, there’s a dissonance. And if you can get audiences to hold both of these images in their mind at once, something exciting and mind-expanding and psychically beneficial happens. It’s uncanny and titillating all at once.”

REYES: To answer the playwright’s call, Victory Gardens went out of the way to cast these roles with actors who look nothing like their real-life counterparts. At the outset of the show, a black woman walks onto the stage and announces herself as Hillary Clinton.

This lets universality of the text resonate in ways that wouldn’t be possible if we were simply ascribing these characters’ words to people doing imitations of them. By having actors who represent a broader swath of America, we can see how Lucas’ story speaks for any person who has ever felt deep love for another and deep ambition for themselves.

PIMENTAL: The brunt of this weight falls on the actors, to maintain a suspension of disbelief in a world that is so far separated from the world they inhabit. They have to hold themselves differently and modify their speech patterns to inhabit the world that’s been created by Lucas. Lucas has written in every moment in which a breath or pause is taken. The rhythm of speech must be followed to a “t”. Once the actors unlocked the rhythm, and the whole play was laid out in front of them, it was beautiful to behold.

REYES: We throw everything we know about the Clintons in our world out the window, and let whatever details are provided in the written text come back in to create our versions of the characters. This allows the actors the freedom to discover Hillary and Bill anew. Through this discovery, audiences may find that by the end of the play, they not only know the Clintons more intimately than they ever have in the past 25 years, but they know a little bit more about themselves as well.

HILLARY AND CLINTON is playing now through May 1 only. CLICK HERE for more information.

Imperative Ephemera

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(Left to Right) Cast Members Kelli Simpkins, Patrese D. McClain, and Mike Tepeli
Written by Bea Cordelia, Literary & Public Programs Intern

Well, it was an excellent turnout Thursday night at Backstage at the Biograph: Breathing Life into a New Play—a free sneak peek into the rehearsal process of the world premiere of Sarah Gubbins’ electrifying new play Cocked.  The moment before, the actors joked with each other in the corner, bubbling with excitement, as various Victory Gardens staff members scrambled to pack more than fifty chairs into the rehearsal room.  Cocked Dramaturg and VG Literary Manager Isaac Gomez introduced the event, and Cocked Director and VG Associate Artistic Producer Joanie Schultz set the stage.

Then: the performance.

Or better: the rehearsal.  There were still a full seven days before Cocked went into previews, and another fifteen until opening night.  Sarah had still been feverishly editing the script, churning out new pages in the middle of rehearsals, and would continue to do so after this particular evening, meaning even the following here-publicized excerpt of the play was not guaranteed immunity.  Of course, theater practitioners practicing what they do—the realization of their art never quite existing in the same way more than once, the deep melancholy of taking bows after the final performance of any given production—the Cocked cast was no stranger to ephemera.

In Scene 2 of the play, corporate attorney Taylor and her ex-con brother Frank bicker like children over his unwelcome and unanticipated presence in her home, leaving Taylor’s crime beat reporter girlfriend Izzie to feebly mediate between the two.  At once politically sharp and delightfully biting, the scene quickly had the audience in stitches.

Isaac started the panel conversation, asking how the actors would essentialize the play.

“It’s not a gun play,” Mike Tepelli, playing Frank, began, in response to the popular misconception of the show.  “It raises a lot of questions about what it feels like to be safe in modern America, and what it feels like to be lonely.”

“It is a play about armor, in many ways, about protection…and about weapons being at the epicenter of our relationships,” Kelli Simpkins, playing Taylor, followed.

Sarah Gubbins had some larger theoretical thoughts about the piece:

“…I’m very interested in the idea of the materiality of thought, the materiality of belief, the ways in which our emotional truths, the tenets of how we ought to believe in the world—those are intangible, but I do believe those thoughts can gain materiality in the world… There is a physical ramification to thinking differently.”

Patrese D. McClain, playing Izzie, suggested, “When circumstances and people collide we ask, Are those our boundaries, or are those what we’ve been conditioned to think?

Sarah began writing Cocked in 2012; the world was a different place then.  The infamous Aurora movie theater and Newtown elementary school shootings both took place in 2012, but since then we’ve seen the explosion of activism around Black Lives Matter and confronting police brutality, harrowing video footage of too many executions, more rampant Islamophobia than ever, the continued genocide of trans women of color, and the list goes on.  In a country that boasts its valuation of individuality, the United States has become a veritable battleground for those who are different.

“I believe in the power of thought to change society,” said Sarah. “I have no assumption of improving the city, or the theater district.  I would love, and humbly so, if audience came to this, and really sat with this—sat with the performances, and sat with the beautiful thoughtful design, and sat with the integrity of the direction—and walked around with them.”

True to her words, it has been an enormously collaborative process.  In fact, the majority of the rehearsal room has been in it for the long haul: Joanie and Kelli first became acquainted with the play at its inception, and Patrese in November for a workshop reading of it.

“You have a trust, and it really helps to check the panic and terror,” added Sarah on her relationship with the actors.

“As an actor, the trust is so important for you to expose yourself for you to get to your best work,” replied Patrese. “Sometimes things are ugly, and that’s okay.”

Kelli referred to bringing a world premiere to the stage as “a gift and an honor.”

And in the context of premiering a play so engaged in gender, race, and class politics—and at a theater acting “in direct response to what’s happening in the world,” as Isaac asserted, Victory Gardens can truly “change the world one play at a time.”

It is not easy work, but VG “tries to cultivate an audience who want to invest themselves in the risky work that we do,” Joanie stressed.

Based on the audience size Thursday night, the work is well underway.

Catch Cocked February 12th through March 13th.

Cast Announced for COCKED

Victory Gardens continues our 41st season with the World Premiere of Cocked by Sarah Gubbins, directed by Victory Gardens Theater Associate Artistic Producer Joanie Schultz.

We are so excited to introduce you to the phenomenal cast:
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Cocked premieres on February 12th. CLICK HERE for more information and to get to know the cast!

Happy New Year!

2015

Now that the hustle and bustle of the holiday season has come to an end, we want to take a moment to reflect on and celebrate the TOP 10 moments at Victory Gardens Theater that made 2015 unforgettable!

10. SAMSARA: Lauren Yee’s hilarious and heartfelt look at one couple’s journey into parenthood, directed by the dynamic Seth Bockley. Samsara was recently named one of the top comedies of 2015 by Newcity Stage.

9. 2015 IGNITION Festival of New Plays: We explored and celebrated 7 new plays from 7 incredible playwrights in mid-July with a record number of festival audience attendees.

8. AN ISSUE OF BLOOD: Victory Gardens Ensemble Playwright Marcus Gardley’s “powerful” artistic response to the untimely and heartbreaking deaths of young African American boys across the country. Gardley returns in June with The House That Will Not Stand: a portrait of 1836 New Orleans where free women of color are permitted to enter into common-law marriages with wealthy white men. Click here for more.

7. THE WHO & THE WHAT: Tony Award-nominated playwright Ayad Akhtar teamed up with director Ron OJ Parson to bring his “funny and smart” hit family dramedy to Chicago last spring.

6. Double Your Impact: In June we were honored to receive a matching gift grant. Every gift made between now and June 30, 2016 counts twice! Get in on the action by clicking here.

5. NEVER THE SINNER: Directed by Chicago great Gary Griffin and penned by Tony Award-winning playwright John Logan, this “chilling” look at the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder case of 1924 thrilled audiences.

4. SUCKER PUNCH: The 2015/16 Season began with the Midwest premiere of acclaimed playwright Roy Williams’ knockout hit. Director Dexter Bullard beautifully staged this “bloody brilliant” window into the Brixton Riots that took place in London in the 1980s.

3. THE GOSPEL OF LOVINGKINDNESS Community Tour: Over the past 12 months we have taken Marcus Gardley’s hit play out into the greater Chicago community. Free performances of this moving play took place in Pilsen, Beverly, and Englewood. Performances will continue this spring in Bronzeville and Humboldt Park.

2. Public Programs: This year Victory Gardens produced over 50 public programs, which included 250 community partners and engaged 3,000 plus people.

1. YOU: A special thank you to you for being such an important and wonderful part of our year. Thanks to your support, we surpassed our $50,000 year end fundraising goal. We couldn’t have done it without you!

We can’t wait to see you at our theater in 2016!

Cheers,

Your Victory Gardens Theater Family

Afterwords Afterthoughts: One Inspires Many

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Written by Samantha Mueller, Literary & Public Programs Intern

Following our Friday night show of SUCKER PUNCH, Victory Gardens was fortunate enough to be joined by members of Dare2tri paratriathalon club to celebrate the accomplishment of athletes with disabilities. Moderated by Dare2tri’s executive director Keri Serota, the panel was also translated into American Sign Language.

One thing that emerged very quickly, while the athletes were introducing themselves, was the serendipity of meeting Keri Serota. Andrea Walton commented “it seems like everyone has their Keri story” before going on to explain she happened to be at a gym telling a stranger that she wanted to do a triathlon when Keri turned around and introduced herself.

Serota explained that Dare2tri strives to take away any excuse that someone might have to avoid doing a triathlon. Not an athlete? Dare2tri welcomes anyone, novices to elite athletes. With athletes as young as 6 years old, Dare2tri provides coaching staff equipped to train athletes with a wide range of disabilities. They also provide the special adaptive equipment needed. This includes racing chairs for the running portion and hand cycles for the bicycling section. And yes – that means for some athletes, they do the entire triathlon on upper body strength alone. Alberto Guzman explained that for athletes with visual impairment like him, this means they complete the triathlon with a guide who is trained by the Dare2tri staff.

But beyond the staff and equipment, Dare2tri provides community.

“You know who your true friends are when they’re there to support you at the beginning of the race at 6am.”

The slogan for Dare2tri reflects this community atmosphere. It’s easy to see how “one inspires many” can branch out into a community all inspiring each other. Athlete Biz Gauthier said that her proudest moments are at the finish line when the Dare2tri community is present and cheering her on.

Dare2tri seems to more than simply achieving their mission “to positively impact the lives of athletes with physical disabilities and visual impairments by developing their skills in paratriathlon.” They seem to be pioneering the field.

An audience member talked briefly about how the sporting in Sucker Punch seemed to have negative impact on Leon and Troy, the athletes in the play. However, the athletes from Dare2tri said that across the board, none of their relationships had been negatively impacted since they decided to join the Dare2tri community. In fact, the experience of the panel was opposite to the experience of Leon and Troy. Guzman and Gauthier both spoke to strengthened relationships with their sisters. “She was at a party, bragging about me to all of her friends,” Guzman said. He is looking forward to seeing his family in Puerto Rico and completing a triathlon with them cheering him on.

He also spoke to the confidence that Dare2tri has given him due to his newfound level of fitness. Competing in triathlons is how he is fighting against his family history of heart issues. “I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life,” he said. “I am working out six days a week. Every week. I am quite proud of that. Keeping that goal.”

Athletes feel truly supported by the organization. Andrea Walton commented that she felt the proudest when she received a road bike, made to fit her. She was humbled that so many people came together to fundraise a piece of equipment made specifically for her to use. “Having the right bike shaved 15 minutes off of my time. Immediately,” Walton said.

Not only have their relationships to their friends and family been strengthened, their ability to know their own self has also gotten stronger. Biz Gauthier commented “every athlete, like Leon in this play, has an interior voice… knowing yourself is a really important part of any athletic venture.”

Across the board, the athletes spoke to a better understanding of themselves.

Their advice for other athletes, whether able-bodied or disabled?

“It’s not one ninety-minute race; it’s ninety one-minute races,” Kendall Gretsch said of her time in triathlons. While you might have a bad minute, or several bad minutes, it shouldn’t dictate the entire race. “You have to feed off of [your adrenaline]” whether you’re completing the triathlon to get on the podium or just to have a personal accomplishment. Other athletes spoke to the idea of feeding off of the energy and adrenaline present during a race.

“Sometimes we think of triathletes as Greek gods,” Gauthier commented. “But triathlons are really so doable.”

And now that they’ve completed their first triathlons? One athlete seemed to sum up the feelings of the entire panel.

“I’m excited to see what I can do. I’m not sure what that is yet, but I am excited!”

 

Afterwords Afterthoughts: Systems at Play

Sucker Punch - Town Hall

Written by Samantha Mueller, Literary & Public Programs Intern

Yesterday evening following the Sunday matinee performance of Sucker Punch, Victory Gardens was fortunate enough to create a space to discuss the intersection of race and sports. We were fortunate enough to be joined by Dr. Tanya Prewitt-White, a sports psychologist and professor at Adler University, and Shannon Ryan, a sports reporter at the Chicago Tribune.

Isaac Gomez, the moderator for the evening and also the Victory Gardens Literary Manager, began the discussion the way he begins most post-show discussions.

Say you receive a phone call from a friend on the way out of the theater and the friend asks you what Sucker Punch was about. In a few words, what do you say?

The audience – including our panelists who joined us for the performance – quickly found themselves on the same page about the themes of the play.

Fighting. Family. Competition. Race.

Racism.

It’s a common answer in these post-show discussions, one with which Roy Williams, the playwright, would agree. Sucker Punch is set against the 1980’s Brixton Riots in London, a time when racial tensions were high and racial inequity was not only socially accepted, but legislatively enforced. That answer also brought us to the main focus of our talk.

Our panelists spoke about the research they have been involved in or written about on the topic. Ryan explained a study carried out by Ithaca College’s James Rada*, in which he found NFL sportscasters to speak about physical qualities in black athletes, but tended to speak of intellect in white athletes. In Rada’s follow up study in 2005, he found that comments of intellect in black athletes were negative comments. “Again, these are real scientific studies,” Ryan said.

Prewitt-White spoke to this sentiment as well. “Minority athletes – they’re having to prove their intelligence,” she said, speaking also to her own personal experience while counseling athletes of color.

At that point in the conversation, only a few minutes in, was there a question from the audience. “I’m not sure why we have to talk about these athletes in terms of race,” the patron began. He continued on to wonder why we couldn’t treat people as individuals in these cases. “I feel like the way we began this post-show is not fair. The fact that this conversation was focused solely on black athletes was, in my opinion, racist.”

In that moment, the ability to use a play as a catalyst to talk about the world we live in, was exemplified. What started as a panel discussion became a true conversation among our rather diverse talk-back attendees, ranging in age and race.

A second audience member pointed out several moments in the play that displayed overt racism. We were reminded again of the race-based legislature during the Margaret Thatcher era that provides the backdrop for the play. “It’s not about water fountains anymore, it’s about systems.”

Another audience member touched upon the media’s response to America’s black president. “When we have a white president, that’s just normal. He’s just called the president. Yes, we have a black president, but we are reminded of that every day.”

Between the original two audience members to speak:

“Maybe I just don’t see it, but I am trying to learn”

“I know you are, and I’m going to try to explain it to you.”

Our panelists gave us more insight into the systems at play. “For anyone interested in learning more about this topic, I would recommend Forty Million Dollar Slaves, a book by William Rhoden,” Prewitt-White said. The book breaks down the framework that black athletes find themselves fighting against.

Ryan brought her own research into the conversation. She spoke to the declining number of African-American coaches, even the number of African-American assistant coaches that are denied the ability to move up in the ranks, with teams hiring new head coaches instead of promoting. She commented on the methodology used by teams when decisions like this are made: “they say [the black assistant coaches] are really good at recruiting, they’re incredible at their jobs, but they might not have field experience” thus becoming a new kind of racism.

Isaac Gomez referenced Viola Davis’s 2015 Emmy Speech. “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” The dangerous thing about the lack of opportunity is that depending on your place in society, you may not even notice the inequity.

For Prewitt-White, it is important then to try to look outside of the space you occupy. “If I don’t acknowledge my white privilege, then I am not acknowledging other people’s struggles,” she said. And for the small amount of time we had following the show to discuss this topic, we carved out the space to talk about athletes of color where there usually isn’t the space.

I personally thought back to when director Dexter Bullard joined playwright Roy Williams after a performance for a conversation. Williams made a comment that has resonated with me ever since.

“Do plays have the ability to change the world?

Of course not.

But they can change people.”

Even if that means providing a space for audience members to be exposed to viewpoints different from their own and making it safe to be wrong in conversation. Yesterday, our audience left the theater having not only witnessed but also discussed. They also left with recommendations of books and studies to find. They left armed with the ability to learn and extend the conversation beyond the four walls of the theater.

Right before leaving the space, an audience member who had otherwise been silently listening through the discussion raised his hand. “Can I just say one last thing before we leave?” he asked.

He explained that he is Native American, and with his final two words, he exemplified how mainstream society can accept something deeply racist, how when we hold privilege we may not even notice the systems at play against a minority group.

“Washington Redskins.”

 

*For anyone interested, the original Rada study is titled Color Blind-sided: Racial Bias in Network Television’s Coverage of Professional Football Games, the follow up study is titled Color Coded: Racial Descriptors in Television Coverage of Intercollegiate Sports.

 

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