A Furtive Movement: The Use of Farce by Vatic Kuumba
February 17, 18, 24, 25 at 7:00 PM
February 19, 26 at 2:00 PM
AS220 Black Box Theatre – 95 Empire Street, Providence, RI 02903
$20 / free for Brown and RISD students with ID
For $10 Student and low income tickets, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
A Furtive Movement: The Use of Farce is set in an alternate future that parallels our present, where over one thousand people are killed by the police every year, told from the perspective of one of the victims of the State. whose death inspired protest, riots, and the formation of a black billionaire super PAC that funnels dark money to radical community building organizations of color including a West African self help guru, a girl scout troop that gives belts to thugs, the manufacturer of bulletproof hoodies, and a documentarian obsessed with showing the life and death of a victim of police violence. Is there therapy for society? Can the infrastructure stand and be repurposed? Or does it all need to burn and be rebuilt with altered intention
This original world premiere is the first full length play by locally renowned slam poet, rapper, MC, and activist Vatic Kuumba, in collaboration with director / choreographer Ronald Kevin Lewis, and visual artists D.S Kinsel, Funmilayo Alieru, Ryan Alves, and Alex Ruiz, amongst others. The cast of A Furtive Movement: The Use of Farceincludes Christopher Johnson, Yemi Owojori-Omisore, Esteban Coronado, Muggs Fogarty, Marshal Gilson, Pheonyx Williams, Becky Bass, Elyssa Perez, Brian Folan, and Delbert Collins.
A Furtive Movement: The Use of Farceis the second full production to be incubated by AS220’s Community Live Arts Residency Initiative. As part of the residency, Kuumba and his collaborators have been staging “Ice Cream Social Justice” events at arts organizations throughout Providence, including School One, New Urban Arts, UCAP Middle School, PRYSM, and AS220 Youth.
This project is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Tell us about yourself. You’ve been working here for about a year now?
I’ve been working at AS220 for just under a year at this point. I started working in Providence about three years ago with the YMCA. I did after school programming at several schools in Providence, but I’m originally from Florida.
What’s your artistic background?
My background is in rap music. I started off in high school in bands, music groups, opening for different acts and stuff like that. When I came here I started doing poetry, and the poetry slams at AS220. I was on the poetry slam team for three years, and this past year I became one of the co-slam masters of the Providence Poetry Slam. With that I started doing theatre, and I worked on a play with Christopher Johnson called Invisible UpSouth, I collaborated in the writing of it and also co-starred in it with him. I also did some theatre at Brown, and a few other projects with different people, which all has led to getting a Live Arts Residency here at AS220, to write this play that I’m producing right now.
What brought you up here from Florida?
Well, I was dealing with a lot of obstacles, the main one being racism. It was also a really small place. So, even on my best night, my best performance, I was never going to have the connectivity with the audience that I wanted. Additionally, I was working in a kitchen and was getting paid like $8.50 an hour. My goal at the time was to make $400 a week, so I told my boss I want to work and get $10 an hour. “How can I make that happen?” She’s like “That’ll never happen here. Ever.” and from side conversations with some of the other people I worked with, I heard she called me names, called me nigger, all that other stuff. So, it was just like, no matter what I do, it isn’t working, because there’s this brick wall in front of me. I moved up here and I stayed with a friend, I stayed on his couch for like a week, got a job in Boston at the time. I worked in Boston for a year, and then I got my jobs here. So, I’ve just been like really working hard. There are way more opportunities here and way more ability to be fluid. That’s what’s good about Providence.
What’s the basic premise of the play? Is it a play?
It’s a theatrical experience, it branches play with film, and illustrations, and publishing. The basic premise is that it’s a world that is parallel to ours, a parallel future where there’s a black billionaire Super PAC, a political action committee, that is funneling this money to these radical programs to end racism. There’s a woman who’s a mix between Oprah and Tituba from The Crucible. She’s real magic, and she’s able to hypnotize people and erase their racial shame. Then there’s a guy who’s obsessed with designing bullet proof systems, like bulletproof jeans, bullet proof hoodies. There’s a documentarian who wants to show America the life of a victim of police brutality, so that people get outraged, but he doesn’t want to just show the aftermath of their life, he wants to follow them up to the point where they get shot or hurt. Which entails him having to do auditions. I should probably mention that the play, in my mind, is a comedy, even though it’s dealing with these really harsh and really raw things.
In the introduction to the piece itself we’re going to have an installation that’s a passageway into the theater. I look at it as a way to have the audience pay a cost for experiencing it, outside of money. What I wanted to do with this piece was to be as free and as crazy as I possibly could, and just have fun. I was really writing it for the protest community, but at the same time you can’t chose your audience because it’s going to be open to the broad public. I want everybody to be able to enjoy it, but I don’t want a person to come in there and to see this pain and be laughing at it in the wrong way. So, the introduction is a way for us to deal with the harshness of our reality before we go into this fantasy world.
It’s going to be an experience, that’s gonna have people question themselves and what their motives are. How they fit into this piece of the American Dream and what privileges they have, before they walk into this space. It’s like a filter for people that are misogynist, or racist, or whatever, they would not be able to go through that. I feel like Donald Trump couldn’t walk through that experience and humble himself enough to go through that experience and then to come to the play.
What has the whole process been? Was it designed with the Live Arts Residency Program in mind or was it something that was going to happen anyways?
The Live Arts Residency really sparked it to come to full gear. I had the idea when I was working on the play with Christopher. I had ideas for doing other things outside of what I was doing with him, I wanted to be more in control of the story myself. The play that I wrote with him, you know, three people die in it. I was just like, I don’t want to have to continually read about that. All this stuff and this tragedy is real, and I think that work is very important, but I wanted to do something different. I’m a big fan of Dave Chappelle. So, I liked the concept of doing something that’s a sketch comedy type of thing, a bunch of vignettes, or a bunch of different sketches, with a character who’s introducing us to these different worlds, almost like Dave Chappelle did with The Chappelle Show. The first idea that I had was “What if somebody did a documentary about somebody that they had auditioned to figure out if people would, you know, get shot.” Like, profiling, “Oh, that motherfucker would get shot!” that was the basic idea. Then it formulated to like “What kind of world would allow for this to happen?” So, I had to create that world, create that funding source that I don’t know would exist in our reality. From there, I focused the idea of the actual play itself. The story focuses on the relationship between a man and a woman and how that relationship is torn apart because of police brutality. Dealing with things in my life, and things that I observed in other people, and in the world in general, kind of just all combined to make this.
I know that there’s like a lot of people collaborating on this piece. Could you talk about who they are, what they’re doing?
Some of my main collaborators are Ronald Kevin Lewis, who is an amazing choreographer, writer, poet, and director. I have a visual artist, D.S. Kinsell, who I met when he was doing an artist residency here at AS220. He’s an amazing street artist and curator out in Pittsburgh, and he’s going to come out and do a lot of our set design; he did like the poster as well. I have Kourtnie who is working with us doing video and filming, and we’re going to be doing some illusions, as well.
Ryan Alves, he’s a comic book artist, he did illustrations for some of the scenes that will be projected during the play and we’re also going to do a published version that’ll have them. We have a cast of around 12 people, the majority are first time actors. It’s hard to find people of color that act in Rhode Island. The ones that do act and are good, it’s hard to get them in February because everybody is like, “Oh, we need to do something black history-related in February.” I fell into that pit but we got a lot of amazing poets from the slam poetry community, as well as some hip hop artists. We have some really amazing performances coming from people, some first time actors that I feel are going to continue acting because the performances they are putting out are amazing.
You mentioned before that in Florida you had experiences with racism, in your job, and I would assume out in the greater world in general, are there any personal experiences that you’ve had that informed your writing?
There are several experiences that inform it. What I think sparked me to be more vigilant, and be more political in the art that I was creating was after Trayvon Martin was killed and that whole situation. I was coming out of Florida at that time. He was killed when I was still in Florida, but during the trial and everything I was moving up here. Later, I was at a poetry festival out at Oakland, California. I was coming back from that when Mike Brown was killed and the whole situation with that, so that activated me here in Providence where there is a really strong artist/activist community. A lot of my friends are politically motivated and attuned to that. I had seen on Facebook that there was going to be a protest for the non-indictment of the person that killed Mike Brown, so I went out to that protest and, one thing led to another, we were marching in the streets and then eventually people took the highway, and in that moment I made the decision to go out there with a lot of people…and that whole night up until then, I didn’t see anybody that I recognized. When I went out on the highway, I saw all my artist friends, right, all of them were there. It was a great moment. Eventually we moved off, but I still got arrested. The crowd of people was mixed, like it was probably 50% people of color, 50% so-called white people. There were only 7 people that were arrested that night, and out of the 7 people, two of them were so-called white people, and they were women. What was really interesting to me was that as they were grabbing me, I was standing next to Jared Paul, who’s a white artist, an amazing artist, and he walks out into the middle of the highway and sits down as the police are taking me, and they walk around him as if he did not exist. That experience, being grabbed and being taken, really motivated me to really engage with my art, but also engage with the community to resist and be an engine for change.
I think in the North or the Northeast, liberal white people assume that this is some comfy enlightened liberal place, especially when looking down the country at the South. Do you find differences between here and in the South? What are your experiences up here?
So, yeah, in regards to racism, it’s these like microagressions that you’ll suffer or systematic things that oppress people in a major way, or these microagressions which tend to pile up. I could rattle off some different instances of things. There are small ones, like I was standing in a line in Market Basket, standing in line with my stuff, and a woman just walks right in front of me in the line as if I don’t exist. This other woman’s like “Hey, he was standing there!” She spoke for me, trying to be a nice person, but I can speak for myself, I was going to say something. That was one instance, a small one, but it makes you question your personhood. Do I exist? There was another instance, out here on Empire Street. I was walking to a meeting here at AS220, and there was a woman who seemed like she didn’t know where she was, she seemed like she might have been having a stroke or something like that. So we’re trying to convince her to go to hospital. The ambulance had come, people had called the paramedics. They were trying to convince her to go, but she wouldn’t go unless one of us went with her. Out of everybody, I went with her to the hospital. She kind of trusted me for some reason. Then, I’m trying to talk to the nurses, telling them the story.. After being there for an hour they said “You need to leave.” So, I said “I’ll leave, I’ll leave as soon as you find out where her daughter is.” and everything like that. They’re like, “No, you need to leave now.” I’m like, “Well she wants me to be here, so if she wants me to be here, then I’ll stay.” Then they say “She doesn’t know what she wants. You need to leave right now.” When they said that, they started to get more stern, so I pulled out my cell phone, and that’s when the two security guards grabbed me and threw me out of the hospital. I would have never thought, even down South, that I was vulnerable to the point where if a person feels that I’m threatening whatever space that they’re in by just being who I am, they can grab me and throw me out. Things like that really keyed me into these biases that people have, and they could be related to race, they could be related to my hair, or my gender, or whatever my build is, but they’re definitely things that are wrong, and I want to work to change them.