As an activist, I have often enlightened people on the planned pathway for low income black Americans that has been in place since we arrived shackled on these shores.There is a systematic reason that so many African-Americans have gone from the plantation to the projects to the prisons. We were never truly freed. In fact, most Americans do not know that the 13th Amendment did not actually abolish slavery. It actually states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (emphasis mine). Put simply, the 13th Amendment allowed white supremacists an easy path to re-enslavement of the African-American that they have been utilizing for over a hundred and fifty years. Just create situations that are so untenable that people will commit crimes to survive and you can re-enslave them. And better yet, since they are so segregated from the outside community, they will likely commit those crimes against each other.
Liza Jesse Peterson‘s riveting one-woman show “The Peculiar Patriot” shines a spotlight on the issues surrounding mass incarceration and the need for reform in a new and innovative way. She educates the audience of the aforementioned facts and more by taking us into a prison – via the prison”s visiting oom – with her unforgettable character, Betsy LaQuanda Ross. Peterson’s Ross is a sassy loyal sista, who faithfully visits a gal pal doing a long stint in a women’s prison in upstate New York. She creates a quilt with squares for all of her many friends that are incarcerated with a yellow ribbon added for those soon to home. Despite being all one voice, there is never a dull moment as Betsy LaQuanda is both hilarious and smart as a whip. We all know at least one woman like her.
As Betsy recounts the happenings back home in their hood, her relationship woes with her ex and true love, Curtis, who is also incarcerated and her current budding romance with Pablo, a former prisoner and hood philosopher: the play is funny, sad, inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time. Peterson is amazing and I am surprised that she did not sweep the Obies for this stunning treatise on the dreadfully, racist prison industrial complex. She – like me! – is an activist but her focus is the prison industrial complex. The Peculiar Patriot is Liza’s love letter to the incarcerated, a literal “I gotcha, boo.” to all of those caught in the bowels of the nightmarish US prison system and/or affected by iy, including the family members and other loved ones of the imprisoned.
Each evening’s performance is capped off by a Q&A with the Directors of the National Black Theater and Ms. Peterson, which made for lively discussions. And we were blessed with a collective breath mediation before we departed the theater.
The multimedia production returned to the National Black Theatre just as the prison-industrial complex has set its sights on Central and South American immigrants, erecting private, for-profit tent cities to warehouse desperate families looking for asylum, safety and a better life.
Recently The Peculiar Patriot was acknowledged with a grant of $100,000 from the Art for Justice Fund, a five-year initiative that aims to turn art into action, investing more than $100 million into strategic efforts to reform the criminal justice system. The funding has been awarded to Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theatre (NBT) to help underwrite the remount and national tour of the solo show about the mass incarceration crisis.
Directed by Talvin Wilks and produced by NBT and Hi-ARTS, The Peculiar Patriot runs through July 29th at the National Black Theatre.
$20 tix are available for a limited time for July 20th-July 24th
Enter code Flash49 when ordering tix at www.nationalblacktheatre.org
About Lisa Jesse Peterson
Liza Jessie Peterson is author of ALL DAY; A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island. She is a renowned actress, poet, playwright, author, educator and youth advocate, who has been steadfast in her commitment to incarcerated populations both professionally and artistically. For 20 years she worked with youth detained at Rikers Island in various capacities, as a teaching artist, re-entry specialist, program counselor, GED teacher and life skills workshop facilitator. She was featured in Ava DuVernay’s Emmy award-winning documentary13th and was a consultant on Bill Moyers’ documentary RIKERS(PBS).
Peterson has written several plays; three are currently in development. Nona Hendryx recently presented Peterson at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, where she performed her latest solo show, Down the Rabbit Hole, to a sold-out crowd.
She began her poetry career at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and was a vital member of the enclave of notable poets who were part of the “underground slam poetry” movement that inspired Russell Simmons to bring “spoken word” to HBO, where Liza appeared on two episodes of Def Poetry. Peterson has appeared in the feature films Love the Hard Way (co-starring with Adrien Brody and Pam Grier), Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, Shalini Kantayya’s A Drop of Life and Jamie Catto’s What About Me. She can be seen in an upcoming webseries, A Luv Tale produced by Sidra Smith and directed by Kay Oyegun (This is Us).
Twitter @lizajessiep, Facebook @lizajessiepeterson and Instagram @lizajessiepeterson
About The Director
Talvin Wilks is a playwright, director and dramaturg. His plays include Tod, the boy, Tod, The Trial of Uncle S&M, Bread of Heaven; An American Triptych;J immy and Lorraine and As I Remember It with Carmen de Lavallade. His directorial projects include the world and regional premiere productions of Uduby Sekou Sundiata, The Love Space Demands: A Continuing Saga by Ntozake Shange, the Obie Award/AUDELCO Award-winning The Shaneequa Chronicles by Stephanie Berry, The Ballad of Emmett Tillby Ifa Bayeza, and This Bitter Earthby Harrison David Rivers. He has served as co-writer/co-director/dramaturg for 10 productions in Ping Chong’s ongoing series of Undesirable Elements and three productions of Collidescope: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America. He was the company dramaturg for six collaborations with the Bebe Miller Company: Going to the Wall; the Bessie Award-winning Verge; Landing/Place, for which he received a 2006 Bessie Award, Necessary Beauty; A History; and In a Rhythm. Recent dramaturgical collaborations also include work with Camille A. Brown & Dancers (Mr. TOL E. RAncE, Black Girl: Linguistic Playandink), Urban Bush Women (Hep Hep Sweet Sweet, Walking with ’Trane andScat!), Baba Israel (The Spinning Wheel) and Ain Gordon (Radicals in Miniature). He is currently writing a book on Black theater, Testament: 40 Years of Black Theatre History in the Making, 1964–2004;and is an Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Minnesota/Twin Cities.
About The National Black Theatre
National Black Theatre [NBT] was founded in 1968 in the heart of Harlem by the late Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, an award winning, visionary artist and entrepreneur. With a distinguished history of innovative work in its community, NBT is among the oldest Black Theaters in the country, and amongst the longest owned and operated by a woman of color. NBT is also a pioneer as the first to establish revenue generating Black art complex located at 2031 5th Avenue in Harlem, NY. NBT’s achievements reflect Dr. Teer’s lifelong commitment to community service through the arts. She believed whole-heartedly in the power of Black Theatre to uplift, strengthen, and heal Black communities on a local and on a national level.
NBT’s core mission remains the same today as it was at the time of its founding, to produce transformational theatrical experiences that enhance African American cultural identity by telling authentic stories of the Black experience. Dr. Teer envisioned NBT as a means to educate, enrich, entertain, empower and inform the national conscience around current social justice issues that impact our communities. We continue to provide a safe unhindered space for artist of color to articulate the complexity, and beauty of their experience through theater.
Since it’s founding, NBT has produced over 300 original theatre works that have toured the USA, the Caribbean, Central America, Africa, and Asia. NBT garnered over 45 AUDELCO Black Theatre Excellence Awards and received a CEBA Award of Merit for the award winning production of “Legacy: Memories of the Gospel Song” that aired on CBS in 1988. From the 1989 production of “Song of Sheba,” and its subsequent tour of Japan, through the 2013 production of “Detroit 67,” co-produced with the Public Theatre and Classical Theatre of Harlem and winner of the Kennedy Center Drama Prize, NBT has been on the leading edge of Black theater production in America.
NBT has pursued its mission over four decades of service through the operation of its 3 core programs: Theatre Arts Program, Entrepreneurial Arts Program and the Communication Arts Program. In 2008 Sade Lythcott took over as CEO of NBT after the untimely passing of her mother & founder Dr. Teer.
Located at the center of creative and community practice in ElBarrio’s Artspace PS 109, Hi-ARTS is dedicated to advancing urban art by empowering artists to develop bold new works while creating a lasting and positive impact on communities. For 17 years, the organization has consistently broken new ground by presenting the work of artists from historically marginalized groups and finding creative and artistic ways to address issues related to equity and social justice. Hi-ARTS presents and produces art that truly reflects the diversity of New York City, giving voice to and celebrating traditionally underrepresented narratives and populations. Serving as a development space, Hi-ARTS works with artists to innovate and incubate theater and performance work along with visual arts and youth education.
The commitment to this work has developed programming and an audience that is unique within the arts and culture landscape. Hi-ARTS is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Lucille Lortel Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, New York City Council, New York Department of Cultural Affairs, New York Community Trust, New York State Council of the Arts, DC Commission for the Arts and Humanities and individual donors. Visit www.hi-artsnyc.org or follow Hi-ARTS on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@hiartsnyc).