A Negro Speaks of Rivers...Synopsis
A Negro Speaks of Rivers written and performed by Margaret Laurena Kemp A Negro Speaks of Rivers is a one hour and 10 minute theatre piece written and performed by Margaret Laurena Kemp, directed by Mark Lindberg, featuring sound design by Guy Brenner, and video design by Moses Hacmon. Tying together personal and ecological history, this piece reveals that water and land use issues are also culture and race issues. Low income, urban America is alternately glamorized in music videos and demonized in the news as “the hood” or “the ghetto.” In this climate, any real discussion about creating a sustainable future for these communities is sorely lacking. A Negro Speaks of Rivers is my artistic response to this lack. The play begins with my personal narrative, and then it ties this narrative to intersections between environmental racism and urban development. A Negro Speaks of Rivers also brings the Afro-Caribbean immigrant community I grew up in onto the stage; a group of people whose voices are virtually absent from American Theatre. A Negro Speaks of Rivers is inspired by the tradition of African American slave memoirs and the unearthing of cowrie shells, amulets, toys, and other objects belonging to enslaved peoples from the ground of old plantations. 1970s Boston, where the play is largely located, is also full of individuals and events that speak to the history of race in America. I revisit Louise Day Hicks, court ordered bussing, race riots, redlining, blockbusting, and FHA-sanctioned segregation in order to link the past to the present, and to show how the choices we make in terms of urban land use impact the human body and spirit. In January 2011, A Negro Speaks of Rivers was presented in excerpts at the Electric Loge in Venice, California. As result, it was invited to be performed in Cape Town, South Africa in the prestigious Out the Box Festival. The work was also presented at Cape Town’s Magnet Theatre. As a work-in-progress the work was presented at The International Theatre of Changes in Athens, Greece, on July 14, 2010. It is my hope to expand the ways in which presenting organizations can connect with communities through the arts; provide historical data that can be useful in correlating how land and water use relate to racial dynamics and violence; and promote partnerships between the public and private sector to facilitate a more equitable distribution of resources.