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When Sal discovers a hypnotic revolutionary hiding in the field, her life is turned upside down by his strong affection and the trouble on his tracks. Set in the aftermath of John Brown’s Raid, UPRISING explores self-determination and sacrifice through the lens of a free black community during Secession Era America. The play inspires contemplation around our own personal expressions of freedom in its evocation of love between both mother and child and opposing Black Liberation philosophies.
It’s 1859 and SAL is the fastest cotton picker in the county. She and fellow workers Bo-Jack, Charlie Pick, Lottie, and Sal’s adopted son, Freddie, enjoy familial camaraderie and friendly competition in a free black community near the Mason Dixon line. Though emancipated, Sal cannot see a life for herself beyond the fields. Her most cherished goal is to start a school for Freddie. With sweat equity and the daily dollar coin “prize” money won as a result of her cotton-picking prowess, Sal is working her way to success.
A fugitive participant in John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry, OSSIE is on the escape when he meets Sal. Thirsty and ravenous, a delirious Ossie witnesses Sal in the fullness of her being. Her connection to the natural world and vivid interior life inspires conversations with Wind, Redbird, and Seeds buried beneath the soil. Ossie is smitten. He is also badly wounded and in need of a hide-out. Though seeking help from this community (that does not agree on what to do with him), Ossie can’t help but whisper the song of revolt in the ears of those closest to Sal. He is a committed soldier in the movement to end slavery. In fact, he sees Sal as the perfect recruit with all the right attributes for his revolutionary mission: strong, imaginative, resourceful, and single-minded. Ossie is compelled to persuade Sal to join him on his journey to Canada. Surely she wants to be free. Sal refuses, insisting that she is already a free woman, but recent events force her to question on which side of the fine line between freedom and bondage she stands. In the second and final act of the play Sal struggles to regain her very self. Ossie tries to redeem himself by helping her. But shattered by loss, it is only the spiritual gift of self-awareness that ultimately provides the necessary salve for her soul.
PRODUCTION HISTORYChicago Dramatists - Chicago, ILPlaywriting WorkshopHorizon Theatre's New South Play Festival - Atlanta, GAWorkshop & Staged Reading with a public audienceThe Lark Play Development Center - New York, NYAn invitation only Table ReadUnicorn Theatre - Kansas City, MOA Staged Reading of excerpts for National New PlayNetwork conference attendeesThe Classical Theatre of Harlem - New York, NYA Staged Reading with a public audienceThe Alliance Theatre’s Atlanta Artists Lab - Atlanta, GAA Workshop, Table Read, and Staged Reading with apublic audienceHorizon Theatre Company - Atlanta, GAfirst leg of a Rolling World PremiereWhy this project at this time?
In the shadow of emotionally charged nationwide protests against police brutality, a play like UPRISING can begin to help us do something that has gone undone for far too long in this country: metabolize our slavery past. Instead of being the dirty, (not so) little secret elephant in the national room, it is imperative that conversation around slavery and freedom become a part of the American zeitgeist.
Inspired by the true story of Osborne Perry Anderson, the only African American participant in John Brown’s Raid to survive, and my grandfather’s tales of his cotton-picking mother, Uprising was conceived to thematically explore notions of freedom and sacrifice. The play’s free black community in pre-Civil War America is a, sort of, microcosm for understanding our personal choices around freedom today. Sal journeys to become a self-actualized warrior of her heart during a time when society at large viewed her as property. Dramatic outcomes in the play reflect the idea that freedom is not free. It takes courage. But to whom or what are we a slave? Our jobs? Our kid’s college fund? Audiences? Ambition? And what might the experience of our own personal uprising entail? These are the conversations this play, its characters and their struggle to express freedom can instigate. Uprising is important now because the reality of progress and freedom is never simple.
From John Brown’s 1859 Raid on Harper’s Ferry to Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 Emancipation Proclamation to December 1865 when the Thirteenth Amendment went into effect, this country experienced its most concerted efforts to bring an end to the institution of slavery. Thus, from 2009 to 2015, the 150th anniversary of events that led to slavery being outlawed in the United States is noteworthy and maybe even worth commemorating. How far have we come? As a nation? As a people? How can we live up to the ideals that were set forth so long ago?
As the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation period is upon us, the subject matter and themes in Uprising are not only important, but relevant. In a world where research shows that people, including medical personnel, assume black people feel less pain than others, and constant stereotypes in the media create negative perceptions that have real consequences for African Americans, plays like Uprising are vital. It is, indeed, a testament to the power of theatre to confront elemental questions that loom large and has the potential to offer a contribution, however small, towards instigating the constructive transformation of some of our nation’s unflattering and most damaging realities.
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