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Five Baltimore playwrights reflect on Freddie Gray, the Uprisings and Baltimore in the Spring of 2015

Aris Hines was a student at Community College of Baltimore County in 2015, when Freddie Gray was fatally injured while riding in a police van. The death of the 25-year-old Gray and the subsequent uprising left Hines, now 23, with questions he couldn’t easily resolve.

He set out to interview 10 of his friends and acquaintances from school and his church about their attitudes towards slavery, the unrest and the n-word. Hines interspersed the results with spoken word verses from fellow artists Tierra Stone and Aryamar Colon-Pappaterra, and wove them into “X-Ray,” one of five short plays running Thursday through Sunday on the college’s Essex campus.

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“I found out that a lot of people don’t know how to approach the topics of civil rights and racism,” said Hines, now 23 and a senior at Towson University. “They find themselves in a place of wondering what’s right and what’s wrong.

“Today I would tell them, ‘Ask a lot of questions, even if the answers you get are completely different than the answers you expected. But just asking the questions goes a lot farther than you might think.”

The five plays were written by six local playwrights: two white, three black, and one Pacific Islander, and are grouped together under the title, “The Uprising Plays.” All were written shortly after the unrest and have been previously produced in Baltimore or New York. And all have been updated to reflect recent events. The play cycle was directed and choreographed by Trustina Sabah.*

Julie E. Lewis, who coordinates CCBC’s theater program, found herself wondering if an audience in 2018 would remember some of the extraordinary events stemming from the unrest, such as the Orioles baseball game in Camden Yards that the public was barred from attending, or the “Rally 4 Peace” benefit concert held in Baltimore by the late artist Prince.

Baltimore Center Stage offers an adaptation of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" that effectively underlines the work's relevance.

“All of the plays incorporate humor, though they all also have a tragic heart,” Lewis said, “and a lot of them pick up on the surreal nature of that time.

“But even the most absurd things in the plays were, for lack of a better word, Trumped by the presidential election. All the playwrights rewrote their original scripts so that the plays in some fashion also focus on what is happening now.”

Among the plays:

  • Hines incorporated a character into “X-Ray” named “Agent Orange” whose dialogue, he said, is taken verbatim from Trump’s speeches and tweets.
  • Playwright Rich Espey updated his drama, “Deep Reverence,” with material relating to Confederate monuments removed from city property on the order of Mayor Catherine Pugh. He asks: Who are the heroes whose statues should be placing on those pedestals instead?
  • “Good Morning, Baltimore,” by Mike Smith, examines media bias by setting his play inside a fictional Baltimore radio station. The staff of a morning news show are taken off their planned coverage of a wine tasting and are reassigned to cover the unrest.
  • “Why Are They Rioting Question Mark Exclamation Point” by Justin Lawson Isett deals with black tokenism. An elderly white couple seeking to understand the unrest place a phone order for a representative black person to explain the African-American experience to them.
  • Lewis’ “Theatre Games: Baltimore Edition” uses the traditions of improvisational comedy to examine the different treatment meted out to black and white protesters during the unrest and the weeklong citywide curfew.

Lewis said that each of the four performances will be followed by an audience talk-back session.

“We didn’t want to just throw this material out there and close the curtain and call it a night,” she said.

“A lot of audience members will have had their own experiences stemming from the unrest, and we want to give them with an opportunity for reflection.”

“The Uprising Plays” run Thursday through Sunday in CCBC’s F. Scott Black Theatre on the Essex campus, 7201 Rossville Blvd. Tickets cost $5-$10; free for CCBC students with id. Visit ccbcmd.edu/calendar/event/The-Uprising-Plays

* This story was updated to include the director/choreographer/s name.

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