Logan Fringe Art Space: Trinidad Theatre

Remaining Performances (tickets available here):

Tuesday, July 21 at 6 p.m.
Friday, July 24 at 8 p.m.
Sunday July 26 at 12 p.m.

They say: Here/Hear, a cultural experiment, is a shared vulnerability exploration drawn from Black experiences within Washington, D.C. It is a collective performance around the curative resonance of bearing witness and being witnessed through healing tradition.

Gabi’s take: An open forum dressed in play’s clothing, Here/Hear boldly exposes itself to unpredictable trajectories based on real-time audience member participation. The entire performance, presented by Conjure! Freedom Collective and Ladan Siad‘s Practice of Creation Studios, relies heavily on each audience member’s willingness to undress their feelings about race in front of complete strangers.

As attendees arrive at their seats, they soon realize that they aren’t going to get away with sitting through a play described as an “experiment” without turning in homework at the end. Viewers are tasked to fill out cards with the following questions:

“Who’s got what you need?”

“How has “here” changed?”

“Which places are sacred to you?”

Throughout the play, solo performer and writer Richael Faithful serenely rocks back and forth in a rocking chair as interviews are projected on the screen in increments. Regrettably, the audio quality on the video is very poor — one audience member wasn’t afraid to interrupt the scene to say he couldn’t hear. Gracefully and impressively, Faithful went off script and offered a summation on what was said in the video, as if the interruption was a part of the fabric of the performance.

Between video projections, Faithful flips over an hourglass and invites audience members to “bear witness” and engage in their own personal narratives on race relations in Washington, D.C., and “be witnessed” as they tell stories in front of their peers from a seat onstage.

The responses she prompted could be very personal. One person shared how D.C. encourages people to be independent, so to the question, “Who’s got what you need?,” she answered, “Myself.” To the question of how “here” has changed, another audience member shared how many different jobs she’s held over the span of twenty years, and how her dreams altered along with her jobs.

Another attendee shared how he experienced crime when he first moved to D.C. from Alaska. Once, when little kids tried to mug him and his colleagues, he tried to tell them that this wasn’t the life they wanted to lead. But before he could convince them, his friend threw them his wallet and they ran away.

These answers unfolded very candidly — some responses were met with light laughter and head nods. Some people weren’t ready to speak, and one even refused to come down when Faithful called on them. But those who did come down found a receptive audience.

While the premise is enchanting, Here/Hear doesn’t really fit alongside its Fringe peers. It’s propelled by harrowingly intimate details about its own audience’s encounters with race. The show is at the mercy of the viewers and their own revelations, which vary for each performance.

Does that give it license to call itself a play? Not quite. But I respected that it helped audience members feel comforted by each other’s discomforts. We all left feeling a little closer to each other, whether we liked it or not.

At the end, Faithful offered everyone a bay leaf, telling us to blow all of our troubles onto it and step on it when we leave. Less of a play and more of a place for catharsis, Here/Hear has a lot to say. And I liked what I heard.

See it if: You’ve been unsettled by race-related issues in America and are begging to engage in a conversation about race in front of a live audience.

Skip it if: Public speaking makes you nervous. Or, if you’re totally okay with the Confederate flag.

Handout photo courtesy of Conjure! Freedom Collective and Practice of Creation Studios