Stage and Studio on 08/28/12
A special look at Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Party People. Written by Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, Steven Sapp and William Ruiz, a.k.a. Ninja of Universes, Party People documents an historic time when the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords worked together to make revolutionary social change during the turmoil of the 60s and 70s in America. Dmae Roberts talked with the writers, performers and founders of the innovative theatre group Universes who blend hip hop, dance, poetry into high performance theatre.
Dmae finds out how the founders of Universes met at Bard College and started working in poetry clubs before becoming a theatre group. They talk about their unique style of theatre and the process of creating the play as well as the legacy of the Black Panters and Young Lords in their own neighborhoods. __________________________________________________________
Party People Mini-Review:
There are few times in theatre where you can witness a new genre coming alive before your eyes. Party People is one of those times. Commissioned in 2009 for American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle, Universes spent three years working on this project and interviewed more than 20 of the veterans of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, whose social movements during that period left a complicated legacy.
Party People makes for an unflinching look from a variety of perspectives both the heroic efforts of party members to enact social programs to help the impoverished in their communities and the violence that erupted throughout the tumultuous period during the civil rights era. The play begins with an epic musical number infused with power and passion with Universes' Mildred Ruiz-Sapp's stunning vocals and the charged poetry of Steven Sapp and William Ruiz.
Part collage, poetry, live concert with dazzling light shows and video montages, Party People is grounded by a solid story line. The main action takes place in an art installation about the very history the play examines. As young artists go through tech rehearsals for the art opening, Black Panther and Young Lords members who were interviewed for the 'show' recall their memories and come to grips with their past. In this artshow within an artshow, Party People is an amazing internal look at this time period as well as the responsibilities of artists when creating art based on real people and history.
The dramatic turning point for the play comes when the veterans of political change interact with each other at the art installation. Secrets are revealed and old wounds open up again as they face friends, allies and deep-seated conflicts. The stellar OSF cast led by Universes offers OSF actors a chance to play cultural roles that expand their versatility. It's novel to hear passionate singing and see hip hop moves by actors with strong classical training.
Party People defies genre and categorization. All one needs to know is that something electric and monumental came alive when OSF and Universes staged this play. There is so much potential for the play to tour in other parts of the country so this important and often overlooked time period isn't forgotten nor the lives that shaped it.
Party People runs through November 3rd in OSF's New Theatre and is directed by Liesl Tommy, who last directed the critically acclaimed play Ruined at OSF in 2010. For more info or tickets visit: OSFAshland.org. Or call 541-482-4331 or 800-219-8161. _________________________________________________________
Background from OSF: "The Black Panther Party was a revolutionary leftist African-American organization active from 1966 to 1982 and was founded on the principles outlined in their Ten-Point Program: “Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace.” They instituted a number of social programs to alleviate poverty and improve health among inner city black communities.
Likewise, the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican nationalist group founded as a human rights movement in 1968, championed health care, education and tenants’ rights for Latinos. J. Edgar Hoover saw the organized activity of these groups as a threat to the nation’s internal security, and had them and other revolutionary movements infiltrated by his FBI Counterintelligence Program. These agents escalated the growing distrust and violence in the parties, and in time, the community and political achievements of the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords have been overshadowed by the often confrontational and militant tactics."
UNIVERSES spent months traveling the country speaking with members of the two organizations and listening to their recollections, inspiring a theatrical re-imagining of this significant period in American history. The interweaving of the stories moves us to reconsider these movements, the impetus for their formation, and work toward a better future for all Americans."