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The events that inspired The Heroes’ Tale have been on Cheryl Butler-Poole‘s mind for decades. Back
in the 1980s, the D.C.-based playwright lived in the Dupont area. One evening she fell into conversation with four older men who called themselves Dupont Circle Heroes. The Heroes never explained the name, but they obviously shared a long and complex history. Over the course of the evening, two of the friends turned on one another. In the ensuing argument the unofficial leader of the group shot another member. In response to the incidents of that night, Butler- Poole wrote a short story that she and her husband, director and actor Greg Poole, have adapted into a one-act play. The Heroes’ Tale is a featured production of the DC Black Theatre Festival, which kicks off with a party tonight and performances beginning on Saturday.
Now in its third season, DC Black Theatre Festival presents dozens of full-length shows in three categories: Traditional, Urban, and Gospel Stage Plays. Busboys & Poets will host a five-day one-act battle competition. Anchoring the festival is the Living Legacy series, five plays chronicling the lives of Paul Robeson, Fannie Lou Hamer, Langston Hughes, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth.
As one of the dramas on the festival line-up, The Heroes’ Tale explores the Dupont Circle of the 1960s and 1980s. The play is Butler- Poole’s imagining of the journey that brought the Heroes to the park that evening, and the possible origins of the conflict that erupted into violence. The reason for the shooting, says Butler- Poole, “was so personal to them, and I guess it was something that was ongoing. I was really an outsider watching the whole thing evolve.”
The Heroes’ Tale, having already evolved from short story into play, has also changed a great deal since it was first read during last year’s DC Black Theatre Festival. Greg Poole, who directs the upcoming production and stars as Feets, the leader of the Dupont Circle Heroes, asked another actor to play the part in the reading. A subsequent production in December of 2011 allowed Poole to step into the role and Butler-Poole to filter audience feedback and concentrate on alterations to the script.
One hurdle, Butler-Poole says, has been integrating the events in the park in the 1980s with flashbacks to the 1960s. She and Gregory, who met as drama students at Howard University, credit Professor Vera J. Katz with attending a performance and making the suggestions that have helped these transitions happen seamlessly.
The greater challenge for Butler-Poole, of course, has been reconciling her thoughts and feelings about the violence she witnessed and portraying the lifetime of friendship between the Heroes and their betrayal of one another. “It was a very profound experience,” says Butler- Poole of that evening in Dupont Circle. “I kind of had to create the back story…to try to make it make sense to myself.”
Tonight’s DC Black Theatre Festival Kick-Off Party takes place tonight at 7 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns. Festival performances take place June 23 to July 1 at various venues. The Heroes’ Tale will be performed Friday, June 29 at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 30 at 1 p.m. at
Performances: June 23rd- July 1st
The Heroes’ Tale: Friday, June 29 at 8:30 pm & Saturday, June 30 at 1:00 pm, Montgomery College’s Cultural Arts Center, 7997 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, Md. $17.97.