Bay Area teens Jessica Hairston and Camille Schmitt have been learning a lot about identity lately, through experiences like watching Black Lives Matter co-founder, Alicia Garza, on Youtube videos and meeting former Black Panther Ericka Huggins in person.
The video watching and in-person meetings have been part of the intensive study over the past few months, as they prepare to participate alongside around 40 other young people in an unusual show about violence and race.
Under the artistic direction of Sarah Crowell and Rashidi Omari of the Oakland-based youth arts organization, Destiny Arts Center, in collaboration with Nicole Klaymoon of Embodiment Project, a hip hop dance theater company based in the Bay Area, Seed Language: A New Identity is a documentary theater production. It features 10 interviews with Bay Area artists, activists and elders and aims to explore violence against people of color.
“One main theme is Black Lives Matter, but in the grand scheme of things, it's about race and addressing the day to day issues,” says Hairston, 17, who embodies Garza, in the production. “The fact that we're doing a show is healing," Hairston says. "Being able to talk about the things that scare me is healing.”
A transformative experience
For many of the participants involved in the show, transformation has been part of the process since the beginning. “What we are interested in is true transformation,” says Sarah Crowell, artistic director at Destiny Arts.
After studying Garza on Youtube, Hairston spoke with the activist's friends to learn more about her subject. “They helped me see the mannerisms I don't always spot on my own," Hairston says. "She smiles when she talks."
Schmitt, who plays Huggins, was able to meet with the Black Panther Party member in person several times. Schmitt asked Huggins directly about a monologue she is performing in the show. “If I hadn't had that conversation, the audience wouldn't vibe,” Schmitt says. “You know, when you read paper, you can't feel it as much as you can when you see the person who is talking."
Schmitt hopes Seed Language will be hard-hitting. “The truth that we are speaking in the show is going to make people uncomfortable," she says. "The truth and the uncomfortableness creates change."
Seed Language: A New Identity plays Friday, Mar. 25 - Sunday, Apr. 3 at Laney College, Oakland. There will also be a special performance on Saturday, Apr. 16 in collaboration with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Click here for more information.