“Hands Up: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments” Continues Conversation on Race

“What we are talking about here is consistency – repetitive profiling… constant harassment… consistency!” shouts James Taylor ’16, while playing the role of a man at a community discussion about Ferguson, MO., in the monologue “Holes in My Identity.”

“Holes in My Identity” is one of six monologues in the play “Hands Up: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments,” which was commissioned by the theater company The New Black Fest in response to recent police shootings, including those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO., and John Crawford III in Beavercreek, OH. Each monologue in the show was written by an emerging black male playwright and explores the themes of race, profiling and black masculinity.

Led by Andrew Wang ’16, Avery Jonas ’16 and Allen Grimm, Instructor in Theater, the monologues will be performed this weekend by a cast and crew of Andover students.

Wang said, “‘Hands Up Andover’ started as little more than an idea between myself and [Jonas]. We talked over [winter] break about how it was necessary that the discussion on race not subside. With the help of [Grimm], that idea found a name through the monologues we were able to get the rights to. We are doing this project to hopefully revive our campus discussion at a time when it may not be at the forefront of each of our minds.”

Two actors were assigned to each of the six monologues and will each perform in two of “Hands Up Andover’s” four performances. While each act
or is a black male student, stage managers and directors repressent a range of races and genders.

Devontae Freeland ’15, an actor in the show, said, “I joined this project as a constructive outlet for me to voice my frustration over a continuing trend of inequality for black Americans in our criminal justice system. It is important to me that people see these monologues be performed because they provide a range of voices from young black men of various backgrounds, each of which is valid and important in this dialogue that we are trying to spark.”

Director Amadi Lasenberry ’17 said, “This project is important to me because I feel as though everyone should learn outside the classroom while at Andover, and theater is one of the best ways to express an idea to all different people. This play discusses race, which is something that affects everyone. We are all obligated to learn about and discuss race and the effects of living in a society affected by race.”

The monologue, “Holes in My Identity,” performed by Taylor and Ian Jackson ’16, introduces the audience to a young black man who was adopted and raised by a white couple in Wisconsin. The man hesitantly attends a discussion about race and ends up learning more about himself and his identity through the people he meets there.

Lasenberry, co-director of “Holes in My Identity,” said, “[The monologue] is about a young man who feels as though he is missing something in the experience as a black male in the United States. Raised by white parents in the Midwest, he never felt as though he had a true experience being black. He knows that he has so much to learn, but he has accepted these holes and is willing to take the time to educate himself.”

In the monologue “Walking Next to Michael Brown,” the main character is a biracial man, based on the playwright Eric Holmes’s personal background.
Duschia Bodet ’16, the director, said, “‘Walking Next to Michael Brown’ is mainly about Eric Holmes’s experience of being black but looking white. I really like the monologue because [Holmes] writes in a way that’s humorous, thought provoking and relatable. There are certainly many themes that Holmes tackles in this monologue. These include how the media responds to issues like the events in Ferguson and of course racial profiling. However, like I said, those themes are woven into the larger one of living as someone who is mixed.”

In the monologue entitled “Superiority Fantasy,” the main character recounts experiences from his past where he was been pinned to the ground and handcuffed by police officers and followed and pulled over while driving. The character then contrasts these difficulties growing up as a black man with the experiences of white men.

Wei Han Lim ’15 , co-director of “Superiority Fantasy,” said, “The protagonist of [‘Superiority Fantasy’] comes from this vulnerable place and has definitely suffered, but he’s impatient for change and is fed up with the status quo… You may not necessarily agree with the character’s ideas, but you can definitely connect with him and understand why he’s saying the things he’s saying.”

Josh Jordan ’16, actor in “Superiority Fantasy,” said, “[‘Hands Up’] is important to me, because when events like the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown happen, we at [Andover] acknowledge it for about a week. Then it passes off like it was never important. I’m doing [‘Hands Up’] to try to keep the topic relevant in the community. As a black male, the topics in [‘Superiority Fantasy’] and the rest of the monologues affect me a lot. Having been stopped by police unnecessarily, I believe that it is time for a culture change in America.”

In addition to performing the monologues, the actors, organizers and crew members have created an ongoing visual project called “Hands Up Andover” where portraits and stories of the cast and crew members were shared on Facebook.

Wang said, “‘Hands Up Andover’ includes a visual project that documents the lives of a diverse group of the students at Andover. This will not only include the stories of black men, but of all the students participating in the project to show some of the parallels between our own lives and the lives represented in the show.”

“Hands Up” will be performed in the Theater Classroom on Friday night at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and on Saturday night at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Seating is on a first come, first serve basis.