Brian J. Accidentally Celebrates Juneteenth

My beautiful wife asked me if I wanted to go to so-and-so’s play, which was presented last Friday at the art museum. Sure, I was excited to go. So-and-so was a local theatre teacher who ran a summer drama camp my boys attended, and it’s been a while since I’ve been to a play (it can’t really be five yearsseven years, can it? Well, with the lockdowns and lingering restrictions I guess that’s easy.).

Then I saw on the News-Leader Web site that the art museum was holding a Juneteenth event that night. Oh, I thought, and it turned out to be true. The local NAACP chapter was hosting the “play.” Oh, boy, I thought.

So, yeah. It was not a “play.” Nominally the story of a local slave who won her freedom by suing for it and a later attack on a home where she lived (the history is based on scant court records), instead of a courtroom drama or biographical play with human characters interacting, instead we got a chorus of about 8 actors (and actresses) lightly dramatizing and setting to music the bad things America has done to blacks (well, slaves and their descendants but rolled up into even African and Caribbean immigrants later) and a little side-order of what America has done to women and other racial minorities (glossing over how badly America treated other immigrant groups like the Irish and the Italians). They litanied events in history, lionized some figures who probably could do with less (St. George F., St. Michael B.), glossed over some history (the assassination of Malcolm X is presented in a second or two of stylized violence–left out, of course, it that he was killed by other Nation of Islam members who were black), and otherwise really only existed to convey The Message. Left out of the presentation: George Washington Carver, Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Susie King Taylor, Booker T. Washington, and many others. Basically, about anyone that could not be used to identify a grievance.

A shame, really, as the story of the slave who won her freedom would make for some compelling theatre as a play. This was not it. It was instead part of a program seeking recognition for the couple-of-incomplete-historical-records figure who only appears a couple of times in a dramatic presentation bearing her name. I am pretty sure they want her to be considered one of the city’s founders. They also seem eager to rename things named after the early residents of the city, including the major thoroughfares and whatnot. It’s been all the rage nationwide for a couple of years now, ainna?

The audience was mostly white people, as you can be expected. Afterwards, the actors had a question-and-answer period/struggle section (one “question” was an elderly former teacher who cried because she did not know the history of the Springfield lynching and wondered how why that single incident was not a centerpiece of education in Springfield). Others were about Springfield history: Were the “founding fathers” of the city who participated in the attack on the house were she lived after freedom punished enough by modern revisionists? Et cetera.

The actors were ill-equipped to handle local history questions, and the basic answer for why the audience members didn’t know was because the audience members lacked intellectual curiosity to learn on their own. Heck’s pecs, I’m only a recent resident of the area, but you know, gentle reader, I have delved into local history. I know that there were more white people hanged for perceived offenses and as a result of the Late Unpleasantness than black people. But, of course, historical perspective, researching for one’s self, and reading actual history harshes The Message.

So I was unimpressed.

I did note that the Art Museum had armed security guards present for the production. I have not been to the art museum recently (sadly) or to other functions at night at the art museum, but I wonder if this was common or if they thought someone might be restive at the production.

At any rate, it got me hungering for drama. It looks like Springfield Contemporary Theatre has lifted its vaccination requirements. What are they running?

Urinetown: The Musical. Well, maybe not.

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