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Denise Manning and Kalyne Coleman in What to Send Up When It Goes Down, co - presented by BAM and Playwrights Horizons, June 2021 Photo Credit: Donna Ward

We Were There

We Were There: What To Send Up When It Goes Down by Alesha Harris

“We Where There” is a written series from different artists on their experience of a theatrical production or event. This is not a series of reviews. Instead, this series is meant to share how other theatre artists see and view work from the audience, destigmatizing the idea that we cannot publicly share our thoughts, feelings, and ideas of art with our community. If you would like to submit your experience of a production, please use our contact form.

WHO: Amber Iman – Broadway Actor, Writer, & Producer.

Co-Founder of Broadway Advocacy Coalition & Black Women on Broadway

WHAT: WHAT TO SEND UP WHEN IT GOES DOWN

by Alesha Harris

Directed by Whitney White

WHERE: co-presented by BAM and Playwrights Horizons,

at the Fishman Space in the Brooklyn Academy of Music

 

I went to see What to Send Up When It Goes Down by Aleshea Harris, directed by Whitney White. It was my first theatre experience since the panini shut us down 15 months ago. Will the theatre be at full capacity? Will everyone be wearing masks? Are we showing vaccination cards at the door? Anxiety mixed with anxiousness mixed with excitement… I didn’t know what was about to happen, but I was ready for it…. at least I thought I was. 

The first thing I saw was a lobby full of pictures. The walls were covered with these stunning,  colorful, oversized photos of beautiful Black faces – smiling, mid-laugh posted up at a kickback.  It took a second, but I realized that several of these people were familiar….faces that I’ve come to know over the years… Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor…. And then I knew where I was and what this was.

I looked around for a while, and then I didn’t want to look at the photos anymore. So I went to the bathroom just for a change of scenery. I searched for people I knew in the crowd, I scrolled my phone, I got some water… anything to distract from the eyes looking down at me.

One of the actors gave a sort of “curtain speech” before we moved into the theatre. It set the tone. This wasn’t just another night at the theatre. This was sacred. Special. It required reverence and respect. In her speech, she mentioned that Alesha Harris created this play for Black audiences, but all were welcome. She was wrong. This wasn’t for me. I know these stories, these names, these faces. I’m a Black woman in America. I don’t want to do “this” anymore; I don’t need this…

As we moved into the theatre, we were ushered away from our seats and into a circle, two circles of actors mixed in with patrons. I’m rolling my eyes internally, cuz my back hurts, and my feet are tired, and I want to sit down. But, honestly, I’m fine, just uncomfortable because I know this is about to be some level of an emotional roller coaster that I’ve been trapped on since maybe 2012..ish (has Trayvon been gone that long?)

I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll say this…

I’ve never experienced theatre that held space for us. For me. Intentionally. Alesha Harris wrote this show for us. With us in mind. Our pain, our grief, our joy, our light, our heavy, our flesh, our song, our history, our legacy. It felt like a long hug from a knowing Auntie. I felt welcomed and cared for, and covered. I fought back the tears because I didn’t want to cry anymore. But by the end, I was powerless. And then, out of nowhere, joy washed over me. And pride and love and peace. There’s something beautiful about knowing you are seen and heard, and affirmed. And not alone. 

I feel like I’m doing a poor job by not summarizing the plot or revealing the structure, but I feel this odd responsibility to protect it. If you want to know more before you go, I’m sure you can find a review somewhere. But know that the actors are bold, vibrant, vivacious storytellers, using movement and song and dance and fire to tell these tales. It’s one of those pieces that you don’t want to leave right away. You’ll linger in the theatre when it’s over, and the words will stay with you, tucked safely away, for many moons…

Just see it.

This production of What to Send Up When It Goes Down at the Fishman Space in the Brooklyn Academy of Music, co-presented by BAM and Playwrights Horizons, closed on July 11th. Subsequent production at Playwrights Horizons will run from September 24th – October 17th, 2021.

Written By

Broadway: Shuffle Along, Nina Simone in Soul Doctor. Off-Broadway: A Civil War Christmas, RENT. National Tour: Hamilton (1st National, Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds).

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