Saturday, May 23, 2015

Hoodies opens a much needed discussion about racism in America.


Penguin Point Productions and Beth Marshall Presented the World Premiere of Hoodies written by Paris Crayton III and directed by Beth Marshall at this year's Orlando Fringe. It is the third in a series of productions addressing racism following the Trayvon Martin shooting. Beth was driving home from a 17 hour long Fringe day setting up for the Hoodies premiere., As she said, "I get pulled over by O-Town's finest. Apparently, I was going 7 miles over the speed limit at one point and swerved a little. (NOTE- I have not had one drink in god knows how long) When the cop is shining his flashlight in the car, he sees the Hoodies posters and asks about the show. I proceeded to tell him about the year-long Trayvon Martin Project and that Hoodies is part 3 and do my pitch. He says" So you want people to come to a show about "cops doing their jobs" (a line that is said a LOT in the play by our cop) for the betterment of the community." To which I reply, the death of black teens is never to the betterment of our community, sir. He went off to run my information and then 2 other cop cars pull up to check on him and come over and to see the Hoodies flyers. As they take them, I say- I have another show at Fringe that you might like better- ha! (meaning Cosmolyrical) and handed these two cops the flyers. Then they all come back over and the cop gives me a warning for my "speeding and swerving" and makes a joke saying "here's a warning for doing a show about bad cops"... I was not amused. Then one of the others said, begins talking about how he once did South Pacific in some community theatre in one of the Carolina's. Again, I was not amused.... Then they said they were "gonna try to make it to them". I asked if I could take a photo of them with the flyers and they said no. HAPPY FRINGE!"

Hoodies presents the story of  “Hooper” Williams, (Stelson Telfort) a seventeen year old black teen who is energetic, smart, and full of life. He is exceptional at basketball and a popular student at his high school. The genius of this play is that you learn to love Hooper through a series of scenes with his family and friends. Much of the cast consists of theater students from Lake Howell High School.  This makes perfect sense since the story is about the senseless shooting of a fellow student.

 The scenes don' t happen in chronological. In one of the funniest scenes, Hooper confides in his mom, Alice (Shonda L Thurman) that he is nervous about asking a girl to the prom. Mom suggests he ask her as if she were the girl in question. Then she starts asking questions about the girl so she can "get in character". As she explains, she is a method actor. When he confides that the girl is white, she says, "You're making this difficult on me." She does play the part however, as a stereo typical Valley girl to hilarious effect. When he finally does ask her out, she replies simply, "No, I have plans." "Mom!" he shouts, and then she explains what he did wrong.

Students discussed the insane action their school took to ban hoodies. A young black student had been shot by a police man while wearing a hoodie and this was the schools knee jerk reaction to protect the student population. Jenny (Momo Earle) a soft spoken Caucasian girl lamented that changing what students wear isn't a solution. Only an open discussion and real change could stop the killing. She had been close to the boy shot and was still devastated by his senseless death. In another scene, Hooper and Jenny meet in the school hallway and they struggle to talk in an awkward exchange. Hooper finally builds up the courage to ask Jenny out and her simply "Yes" eases the tension. They both gleefully shake in delight when they walk away. From that moment on however, the audience knows that Hooper will be shot.

"The Talk" parents have with black teen boys is different than the talk Caucasian parents have with their boys. Rather than "the birds and bees" Hooper's parents explain how he must act when being confronted by a police man. They tell him that he must keep his hands visible at all times and never raise his voice. He should never give the policeman any reason to escalate the situation. "But what if I didn't do anything wrong!" he shouts. "It doesn't matter." he is told that just the color of his skin makes him a suspect in racial profiling..

Frank Stevens (Stephen Lima) is a Caucasian male who is new to the police force. In a conversation with his wife, Katie (Chelsey Panisch) he finds out that she is unhappy with the way that their marriage is going and can’t handle the new pressure of being so closely involved with the death of a young teen. "You think I'm guilty" he tells her. "It didn't have to end the way it did" she replies. "I was doing my job!" he shouts. As an audience member, you can't help but recall how many Germans after World War II also confided that they "were just following orders".

Hooper was shot the night before prom and Jenny came on stage in a beautiful purple prom dress to explain that she would never go to prom. Hooper's mom was so overcome with grief that she couldn't stop crying. Her husband, Jonathon (Barry White) confided that he couldn't stand to see her in so much pain. He felt helpless in the wake of so much pain.

What makes this play so powerful is that you see every characters strengths and flaws in each scene. I recently traveled to Turkey and some people felt I should have bean scared. Ironically a Turkish taxi driver confided that America is a far more scary place. No where else in the world are so many unarmed youths killed. Police in America kill citizens at over 70 times the rate of other first world nations. Hoodies addresses this problem in a very human way. It is theater at it's best because it forces us to took at ourselves and realize that chance will only happen if enough people raise their voice. The cast and crew of Hoodies did an amazing job and I hope the show will find a larger audience. After the show, the theater lobby was crowded full of students holding signs of protest. Don't miss Hoodies!


Where: Silver Venue (Orlando REP, Bush Theatre) 1001 East Princeton Street (Loch Haven Park) Orlando FL

Tickets: $11 + service charge.

Remaining Shows:
Saturday, 5/23- 8:30pm
Sunday, 5/24- 12:30pm


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