Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
“All political power is inherent in the people” proclaimed the white board behind center stage Friday as Flint’s newest production company, Shop Floor Theatre, launched what its director Andrew Morton has dubbed “verbatim theatre”. Titled State of Emergency, it’s not so easy to put a label on what it is that Morton is up to with this newest effort, but we can safely say it is provocative.
We first saw this style of performance back in 2011 when Morton’s Embers, subtitled The Flint Fires Verbatim Theatre Project, wove the reactions of a variety of Flint residents, firemen, and city officials into a sort of cathartic theatre moment presented on actual burned sites.
This time the subject is Michigan Public Act 4 which appointed an Emergency Manager to the city of Flint late in 2011. A year later, in 2012, citizens across Michigan voted to repeal this controversial law that was seen by many to be a denial of democracy and the usurping of the rights of the people. The writing team responsible for this script includes Jessica Back, Beth Brooks, Nic Custer and Kenneth Indish.
“Is government a business or a protectorate of the people?” Based on interviews, media coverage, and other found material, the play enacts the story of this event by, in Morton’s words, “honoring the words of community members, quoting their opinions, sharing their information and ultimately, telling their stories”.
Ten performers play multiple parts in order to portray the host of real people and their views. They change costume pieces to delineate a change in character, but they never attempt to “become” the person they are portraying. Rather, the effort seems to be on the words and the message, but assuredly not on the visual character. It’s worth mentioning this troupe by name so here they are: Cathleen Arnold, Jordan Climie, Nick Hale, Elsa Harchick, Gary Jones, Jon Kelley, Tomoko Miller, Jenna Noelle, Brittany Reed and Hank Reed.
At play’s end it was acknowledged that this project was almost overwhelming in it’s scope and size as the whole issue of Right To Work was touched upon. Enacting a glimpse at the Lansing protest march complete with masked police in riot gear the question was asked, “Is this what Democracy looks like?”
Each performance of State of Emergency hosts a talkback portion after and Friday night’s audience was ready to respond. “Manipulation exudes control and fear rules the day in the end.” “We should not and cannot expect the city and the state to take care of us.” “No one gets involved until the “boom” is close.”
Clearly a call to action, the play will nonetheless leave viewers with a perspective they may not have had before. It is reality theatre at its most intriguing because it’s about Flint and Michigan and ultimately about we, the people.
State of Emergency will perform the next two weekends at various venues including Flint Community Players Performance Hall and the Masonic Temple in Flint.
All performances of State of Emergency are free of charge, however advanced booking is strongly advised as some locations have limited seating. To reserve tickets, please email your name, contact info, number of tickets required, & performance location/time to email@example.com or call 1 (810) 424 5453 and leave a voicemail with the same information.
For those not able to get to Flint, there is a live stream of Friday night’s performance recorded by the #NewPlayTV channel and available online at http://www.livestream.com/newplay/video?clipId=pla_6e1d20bd-65f9-4643-8883-2f3849049f3c&utm_source=lslibrary&utm_medium=ui-thumb