By Karen Stokes
Catina Cole, founder of the MPower Theater Group, always had an interest in theater.
Growing up, her mother wrote and directed plays.
“My mother had a talent for writing and directing community plays, mostly for church and always cast me in roles no one else wanted,” Cole said.
The inspiration for MPower Theater Group was that Cole was a rape survivor.
MPower Theater Group’s mission is to empower survivors and offers opportunities for underrepresented communities in the hopes of creating and reenacting theater with a social justice focus on activism, advocacy and awareness.
“Many of the plays I chose deal with trauma. I found out, by mistake, of how empowering it feels doing something you did not think you could do and showing up to do it,” Cole said.
“In addition it is at times easier for survivors to advocate for others and be hard on yourselves.”
On Saturday, February 28, Cole directed a performance of “The New Black Fest’s HANDS UP,” featuring seven playwrights with seven testimonies on the feelings of hopelessness and fear in light of the Michael Brown murder in Ferguson, Missouri.
An audience of over 130 at the Body and Soul Healing Arts Center, 3617 North 48th Street, witnessed each of the seven spoken word performances.
Each actor shared testimonies of fear, pain and trauma all steeped in the pot of racism.
“Every testimony is different. Some you will relate to them; some will be uncomfortable.
You may experience a rollercoaster of emotions,” said Cole. The stories are inspired by the playwright’s personal stories, thoughts and/or feelings.
The local actors, all whom made their first appearance with MPower Theater Group, included Larry D. Johnson, Reeko Smith, Mario the Poet, LaTasha Lynn Tharp (LaSoule), Bobby Drake, Derrick Jones and Shaun Thompson.
Each gave performances which consisted of 10-15 minute essays by seven emerging black playwrights.
Shaun Thompson, who took the stage for the first time, shared with the audience that his selection ‘How I Feel’ was a direct reflection of how he felt.
He talked about being with his girlfriend watching what was happening to Michael Brown on television.
“Hands up, don’t shoot” was the call and response the audience was asked to participate in while literally keeping their hands up throughout the entire monologue.
The majority of the virtually full house was completely engaged.
After the sometimes dramatic, sometimes comedic but consistently provocative performances, the cast and audience members participated in a talkback session on “What does ‘Hands Up’ mean to you?”
Comments ranged from obedience and surrender to fear. Some said it’s like waving a white flag. Many were seeking solutions.
“’Hands Up’ is a rallying cry,” said Thompson. “We as black people, we deserve to be valued.”
“There’s a unified theme. The goal is for people who are silent to speak up. Do not let this moment go; do more,” said Bobby Drake.
“Theater can provide you the empathy for telling someone else’s story and in a way, tell your own,” Cole said.
“You want healing for your character or your writer and you being healed. We are also proud of the sense of community we build through theater.”