Some of Rochester's most challenging cultural programming in the past year and a half has been initiated and sustained by At the Crossroads: Activating the Intersection of Art and Justice. The series is presented by 21st Century Arts in collaboration with many artists, writers, and performers whose work engages social and political issues. The events have paired art performances and installations, film screenings, and poetry readings with Long Table Conversations, which have placed the voices of women of color and queer people of color at the forefront.
Out of these collective endeavors grew the WOC•Art collaborative, a group that advocates for women and femmes of color in the arts. The collective's first formal collaborative endeavor kicks off this week with the first staging of New York City-based playwright Sarita Covington's new work, "Things Went Horribly Wrong." The production closes out The Avenue Blackbox Theatre's inaugural season, which has included plays, spoken word performances, children's programming, and more.
Covington and founding WOC•Art members Rachel DeGuzman and Reenah Golden are co-producing the play for nine performances at The Avenue. Nonlinear in form, the work explores female leadership, moving back and forth between the lives of South African anti-apartheid activist Winnie Mandela and Shay, a 14-year-old girl from New York City's Lower East Side. The play reveals two attempts at revolution -- one rooted in reality, one fictional -- and includes themes of gun violence, police brutality, feminism, racism, and incarceration.
Each performance of the play will be followed by and serve as the prompt for a Long Table Conversation with different topics and community partners at the tables each time. Additionally, the performances will be complemented by multimedia visual art installations featuring work by Yves B. Golden, Eli Reed, and WOC•Art member W. Michelle Harris, who is also serving as Digital Media Designer for the production.
DeGuzman became acquainted with Sarita Covington through her involvement in Artists Co-creating Real Equity (ACRE), an anti-racism organization in New York City that Covington co-founded. After Winnie Mandela's death in 2018, Covington and DeGuzman collaborated to bring "Things Went Horribly Wrong" to Rochester audiences as part of DeGuzman's "At the Crossroads" programming; in April of 2018, Covington and two actors did a table reading of "Things Went Horribly Wrong," streamed via Skype from Covington's home as part of an event held at Gallery Seventy-Four.
The Avenue's founder and artistic director Reenah Golden will direct the play, and DeGuzman is curating both the Long Table Conversations that accompany each performance and the art installations. Organizers have approached casting with a gender-neutral ethos. The cast includes New York City-based Equity actor Angela Polite (TV's "Gotham" and "Blue Bloods") who, along with Rochester-based actor Ashona Pulliam, is one of two actors double-cast as Winnie Mandela in the play. The rest of the roles are played by Rochester-based performers Anderson Allen, Chaz Bruz, N'Dia "Dread" Prout, Jazzelle Bonilla, and Uzziah Jamaal Agapeo.