By Holli Harms
I kept my membership card (even though it’s no longer valid). My card from the show The Black History Museum…According to the United States of America that made me for 2 hours plus a card-carrying black person.
I kept my honorary card to remind myself that for one night I was brought in to share the experience of what it means to be black in this country, to have your families ancestry traced back through generations of enslavement; where families were again and again separated, children sold away from their parents, husbands and wives separated by the selling of their bodies and souls. Imagine your five-year-old child being taken one day and sold away from you. Can you? Imagine going on with your life like that. Can you?
This is not to say that I now know all there is to know and what it means to live every day with the hundreds of years of atrocities done to my ancestors and to everyone with my skin color because I had two hours of experience. Not even close. I can’t walk in those shoes because that is not what I was born into, but I do have a deeper empathy than before and that makes all the difference.
It opens with the voices of people answering the question, “What is blackness?” The answers… “Being Black is a gift.” “Blackness is humanness.” “Black is beautiful.” “It is the adaptability of survival,” words heard over speakers throughout the lobby of the theatre. That is where you begin the adventure – the lobby. The show, which is part happening and part circus, part game show, and yes part museum, takes over all of HERE top to bottom; offices, vestibules, lobbies, dressing rooms all of it. No stone of possible performance space is left unturned.
Tonight we are all black, with cards in hand we are one. We have become a community reaching back through time, rooted in the present and stretching to the future together.
We have two escorts throughout the performance: the first is The Guide ( Robert King), he will lead us from point A to point B and will make sure we have seen all there is to see because there is a lot to see and experience and read and listen to. Then The Descendant (Kareem M Lucas) is there to talk to us about our past and our future, to remind us that this country, this world, was built on our backs by our hands and watered with our sweat, we the makers of this world, we descendants of slaves. Then we meet The Founding Fathers who are discussing the Constitution, particularly the “All men are created equal” section. Jefferson, Franklin, Hancock, Adams and Richard Henry Lee, all black actors, half of their faces painted white and wearing half heads of white 1700’s wigs. They laugh about their own hypocrisy – everyone equal but our slaves. Hahaha. Hilarious.
This is the beginning of the evening. It is not bleak, it is not hit you over the head dogmatic, it is funny and endearing and damn clever, taking what we know and twisting it, uncovering what we thought we knew and shining a light on it, stating the obvious in surprising ways.
I urge you to see this remarkable piece of theatre, art, music, dance. Having seen many of the shows currently on and off-broadway about race in this country, this one is one of the BEST if not THE BEST, entertaining, educational, engaging and submerging you in the whole experience. It is not just an intellectual exercise. You are participants in a game show about black history and you have to work together as a team to choose your answers and each answer has personal repercussions. Being black in America comes with constant stipulations, ever-changing terms and conditions.
The ensemble is astonishing, actors dancing, dancers acting, laying it out for you like the best meal of your life, each course of the evening topping the last. This is a massive undertaking to direct, steering an audience of 60 throughout the building’s spaces, some of the rooms are only able to hold 5 at best, keeping it engaging and moving the actors with care and theatricality. Zoey Martinson who not only conceived the show but also directed it handles all of this with precision and ease. Her writing, her work – jaw-dropping. She is not just sole creator of this but also instigator collaborator of this spectacular event – inviting some of the best young artists in NYC to collaborate with her and in the end, she opens the night up to we the audience to join the collaboration.
There’s something suffocating all of us whether we realize it or not. Racism continues to strangle the breath out of this country. What can we do? Go and see this show and leave a little wiser and stronger and ready to stand by your fellow man.
Get your ticket and take a friend. You will want a companion on this journey, someone to process the night with and relive its brilliance.
Note: It is all standing and walking and so there is a coat rack for your coats and bags. Try to arrive light of stuff. If you are a Patron with mobility issues call the Audience Services Manager at (212) 647-0202, x331 or email firstname.lastname@example.org prior to your arrival to discuss seating etc…
The Black History Museum…is conceived and directed by Zoey Martinson and created in collaboration with poet and performer Kareem M. Lucas, sketch writer Jonathan Braylock, visual artist Brandan “B-mike” Odums, Dramaturge Arminda Thomas, scenic designer D’Vaughn Agu, costume designer Ari Fulton, sound designer and composer Avi Amon.
With: Kareem M. Lucas, Robert King, Marcia Berry, Landon Woodson, Tabatha Gayle, Toni Ann DeNoble, Langston Darby, Latra Wilson, Telly Fowler, Taylor Boyland, and Eury German, with additional video dance by Briana Reed.
Additional Creative Team: choreographer Francesca Harper, additional writing by Robert King and Shenovia Large, video choreographer Abdul Latif, lighting designer Ayumu Poe Saegusa, projection designer Brittany Bland, animator Daria Amai Shelton, cinematographer Katherine Castro, gaffer Justin W. King, visual artists Paula Champagne, Kalin Norman, Shariffa Ali, Laetitia Ky and Yusef Miller; writers Robert King and Shenovia Large, researcher A.J. Muhammad, production manager Clementine Seely, stage manager Alex B. West, and assistant stage manager Josephine Ronga.
The Black History Museum… HERE, 145 Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. Tickets $25 general admission, and $50 pay-it-forward (the latter including a $25 tax deduction) —can be purchased by visiting HERE or by calling 212-647-0202. In-person sales at the box office after 5pm only on performance days and two hours prior to curtain for matinees. For Group Sales, contact email@example.com.
Performances November 12th – 24th: Tuesdays–Saturdays at 7pm, Saturdays–Sundays at 3pm
HERE (145 Sixth Avenue, Manhattan) Enter on Dominick street
$15–$50; here.org; 212-647-0202
(NOTE: The performance lasts 2 hours plus without intermission, and audience members will be standing, walking, navigating stairs, and continually moving throughout HERE’s many spaces. Recommend you wear comfortable shoes. HERE will provide coat check, though recommended that you leave bags and parcels at home. HERE cannot take responsibility for any checked items and ask that you please plan accordingly.
There is absolutely NO LATE ADMITTANCE, nor are refunds or exchanges given for late arrivals or missed performances. The box office will open 2 hours before each performance.
No outside food or beverages will be allowed inside the museum. There will be no concessions offered at HERE during these performances, though we do have a drinking fountain on our lower level.
The performance also features haze and flashing lights.