Feb. 5 at 7 p.m., Feb. 6 at 2 p.m., The Wadsworth Atheneum, 600 Main St., Hartford, (860) 278-2670, wideopenencore.eventbrite.com
One of the most difficult things a person can do is to hit rock bottom, pull themselves out of that situation, take those negative emotions and use them as motivation to make something positive. After hitting a low point, Hartford poet and actress Shireal Renee used her gift for writing to make her first book of poetry. She then turned that into Wide Open, a one-woman play that debuted at the Wadsworth Atheneum last November, and is returning for two encore performances Feb. 5 and 6.
After a failed relationship with Mr. Wrong, Renee wrote a book of poetry broken up into three different parts chronicling her life, titled The Things Inside Me.
“The book is an autobiography through poetry, which talks about different situations in my life from my adolescence, my college years, and ending with me becoming a woman,” says Renee, who spoke to the Hartford Advocate at The Tavern downtown. She self-published the book through her publishing company By Renee Visions Publishing House. “It is written in three phases of my life, the ‘Things Inside Me’ is the first phase, ‘ME,’ which stands for ‘mature’ and ‘educated’ is the second phase, and ‘Open’ is the third phase.”
After the book was released, Renee began thinking of ways to promote it. Before writing poetry, she’d written her own movie scripts and she had also taken acting classes and acted in several school plays. Drawing on those talents, she came up with what she felt would be a clever way to introduce the book to a larger audience. She named the play Wide Open, after the last phase of her book. She is letting the world know who she is.
“The play is written by me, produced by me, and starring me, which makes me wide open for everyone to like me or to tear me down,” she says. “It’s a true story about me, so I’m really putting myself out there to be criticized, judged, loved, hated or whatever.”
The play centers on her involvement with a married man while she was living in New Jersey, who at first didn’t tell her about his wife, but after she found out, she still stayed with him until things took a turn for the worse.
“The relationship got mentally, physically and emotionally abusive and I found myself in a really dark place,” Renee says. “I am a spiritual person and I was raised to pray and go to God in times of need. While I was in that situation, it became so overwhelming that that was the only thing I needed to do, was to pray and go to God, and that’s what I did. I prayed myself out of that situation.”
Though the production is billed as a one-woman play, there are various people in the play without speaking roles, but who provide imagery and emotion to Renee’s story. Renee cast the play using friends from Connecticut’s poetry community, including Tarishi “Midnight” Shuler as her male lead. Accomplished mime and praise dancer Sharece Sellem provides the choreography along with Maurice Clarke, and Tanisha Brandon-Wilson. Sellem also dances in a pivotal scene. The play is directed by Darlene Brandon, poet and former host of “The Love Jones Experience,” a weekly open-mic poetry event at The Russell. During intermission, there will be performances by local singers Ru Williams and Mr. Qwes. Hosting the play is former president of the Wadsworth, John H. Motley.