As the pandemic rages on, so do the efforts of theatre makers everywhere to create safe performances and to continue to flex their creative muscles to create…well, anything at this point. An Other Theater Company (AOTC) is back this month with their second streamed show and third show overall since the shutdown, Something to Cry About. Something to Cry About is a brand new piece devised by the new co-artistic director of AOTC Shelby Noelle Gist and star of the performance Dorsey Williams. This piece was devised beginning in August of this year, filmed for streaming around October, and began streaming just this past weekend on the theater’s website.
Something that I love about An Other Theater Company is how much emphasis they place on safety at all times and in all meanings of the word, not only physical safety but also mental and emotional safety as well. In a short text interview with Gist after my viewing of the show, she said, “Most devised pieces take months if not years to develop before they’re show ready, but Dorsey and I were up for the challenge and hungry to create something safely. We would meet mostly in Zoom and then we would rehearse in person, 10 feet apart with masks. Safety was always the focus.” As a viewer, I felt safe watching the performance in the comfort of my home and I also felt the safety precautions and measures that had been put into place for those involved with the creation of the show. Never once when watching the performance did I worry about the health of those involved, because I knew that I didn’t need to.
Something to Cry About follows a counseling session for a young Black man named Donald. Gist states that the three key ideas they wanted to address with the show are, “colorism and black pain, ignorance in mental health treatment, and the need to demolish standards of toxic masculinity in young Black men.” I am not black. I am a white-passing Latinx woman. While I do identify as being a part of the wider group of BIPOC, I cannot and will never fully understand the struggles that Black people go through every day. But, while I cannot sympathize, this show has brought me closer to understanding and better able to empathize. Let me just clarify that while people in the current social climate are enjoying saying, “white or BIPOC,” it is not a binary. BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, People of Color. Breaking it down like that should help people understand that each group is distinctly different with their own life challenges. Empathy is the act of putting in the work to learn about the feelings of others and trying to understand them without saying, “I know what you’re going through,” because we don’t. Something to Cry About evokes a very intimate feeling of vulnerability on the part of Gist and Williams through personal stories, that even a couple days after watching it has me feeling nothing but love and hurt for those who live their lives experiencing racism.
As far as the logistics of the performance, I was impressed with a few minor concerns. In an effort to always provide accessible theatre, An Other Theater Company’s stream of the performance includes captions, for the deaf and hard of hearing, that automatically begin when the show begins. However, the captions don’t fully match up with what is being said onstage, leaving a concern with me that those who require captions won’t be reading the same things that those who don’t need captions are hearing. I was very impressed with how smoothly the whole show runs thanks to the videography and editing of Tyler Fox, who has worked with An Other Theater Company many times before. Tyler also worked on the videography of their show Odd Shaped Balls back in April, but this performance is his first time editing. One concern I have about the editing, that didn’t affect my ability to view the show but was a little bothersome, is the sound levels. Whether it was my computer or the video itself, I am not sure, but there are a few times throughout the show that the sound levels between scenes are not equal and required me to adjust the sound manually on my computer. I don’t believe it was intentional (as some scenes would have been very quiet without the adjustment of my computer volume), but regardless of the differing sound levels, the performance was wonderfully executed.
Something to Cry About runs through November 30th on anothertheater.org. Tickets are sold on a pay-your-price system and I urge you to pay the most that you can, not the least. Many of us are struggling right now due to the pandemic and small businesses, particularly small theatres, are not immune. Do what you can do save theatres like An Other Theater Company. We can’t let the small theatres disappear because of the pandemic. The show runs a little under 40 minutes and can be watched anytime between 6-11:59pm MST on the night your ticket is for. Support the theatre. Support the arts. Wear a mask.