Lights, Camera, Action!
Have you ever had the experience of being moved so deeply by something that you knew it was a personal message to you?
It was sometime around the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Social unrest and turbulence were in the air. The Weatherman and Black Panther party actively resisted police brutality in the black community and against political activists which created conflicts with Mayor Daley's minions in the streets. In the midst of all the seeming chaos, there were writers and inspirational radical poets like Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Don L. Lee (Haki Madhubuti) inciting social activism. Hence, the air was ripe with innovation and radical change.
I was riding the subway home from the North side of Chicago coming back from one of my excursions to what I called Peaceville. The near North Side neighborhood was where the hippies hung out. It was all about Love, Peace, and Happiness. On this day I may have been at Alice’s Restaurant or I might have been visiting Lincoln Park Zoo to see Mike the Polar Bear. Although I can’t remember exactly the visit on that day, it was a peaceful vacation to the nice quiet north side where there were no gang shootings nor police to harass me, for the most part.
As the elevated train made the long trek around the curve approaching Cermak Rd. (the 22nd St station) the car suddenly filled up with a band of eclectic street performers who burst into chanting and singsong voices delivering a powerful rendition of what I would later learn was Ron Milner’s short play “M(ego) and the Green Ball of Freedom.
I had never heard of this prolific playwright from Detroit, but this radical performance piece was riveting. I had never seen street theatre before, nor had I experienced the intensity and inspiration of delivering a message in this way. I still remember the closing lines: “It is not he who achieves but he that achieves and returns so that all may be free. So that all may be free,’ they chanted. I was enthusiastically shouting, “Right on Soul Brothers & Sisters!”
The Elevated train slowed to a stop and the doors opened. Suddenly the door between the cars burst open. It was the Transit Authority. The Police had arrived! Everybody hit the door with the police in hot pursuit. I hopped up out of my seat and onto the platform and I watched the street theatre players run across 22nd Street headed to the projects and they quickly disappeared into the 2250 State St. building.
The police stopped in their tracks. They were not going into that building. They knew it was dangerous, even for the cops. But me? I had lost my mind and was entranced by what I had witnessed. As a 17-year-old creative artist, I wasn’t thinking about the potential danger of the gang set that owned that building. All I knew is that I had witnessed something so phenomenal that it moved me to the depths of my Being and that somehow I had been activated to get involved. I knew I had to find those people and ask them, “What was THAT?”
As soon as I entered the building, I noticed someone peeking out of a door that led to the basement. “They gone?” he asked me. He recognized me from the train car. I said, “Yeh they scared to come up in here!” He laughed and said, “Come on in young brother” and opened the door wider. He knew I was one of “them”.
I went downstairs and met the players of the Nommo Street Theatre guild. And I joined them on that day. On the weekends, I traveled around the city with them and I experienced the explosive power of guerilla street theatre as we amazed people, inspired them, and surprised them as we performed pop-up street theater in the most unlikely of places. We were always on the run from the cops, who chased us like we had stolen something.
I was hooked on street theater from that day forward and every time we chanted the closing lines of our play, “…So that all may be free…” I felt those “God bumps” reminding me that I was here to carry a message.
In our hearts, we know that message inside us, when that curtain goes up and we find ourselves center stage. It is that Calling that is in our DNA reminding us that we are here to speak Truth and to Be Truth.
"If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you.”
Quote from The Secret Sayings of Jesus the Book of Thomas