It Starts in the Home: “3/Fifths’ Trapped in a Traveling Minstrel Show”

Wesley T. Jones, Vienna Carroll, Michael Bryan; Photo credits: David Marshall

Presented by Sleeping Weazel
Conceived and written by James Scruggs
Directed by Mark Rayment

Nov. 3-11, 2017
Nicholas Martin Hall
Boston Center for the Arts
Boston, MA
Sleeping Weazel on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston, MA) 3/Fifths’ Trapped in a Traveling Minstrel Show reclaims appropriated Black culture so to spit racism into the faces of oppressors. It’s beautiful and horrifying. Potential audience members please be aware that 3/Fifths’ contains nudity, graphic violence, and the unvarnished, unadulterated truth of what it is to be a Black man in America. Gunshots and police video are used because violence is our legacy and our future. 3/Fifths’ is a mirror showing us who we already are.

Recently an NPR article was published that stated that a majority of white people believe that racism against them exists.  It was from a poll of “3,453 adults in the U.S. from Jan. 26 to April 9. Of those, 902 were white.” These self-identified targets of oppression couldn’t cite examples. This is because white people aren’t recipients of racism. That isn’t how racism works. On the other hand, “entitled asshole” exists in every race, creed, class, gender identity, and so on. It just so happens that white people have the most practice.

3/Fifths’ is a minstrel show dressed up for modern audiences. Scruggs has written a tightly written script that director Rayment has perfected for the BCA. Performers Michael Bryan, Vienna Carroll, and Wesley T. Jones capture the racism in their midst. In response, the audience’s desperation to move on from its discomfort is palpable. 3/Fifths’ will not let its audience engage with racism casually. It’s important to pay attention to what the artists are trying to tell us. There is a test at the end. 

The most discomforting aspects of this production come directly from the audience. Scruggs’ script calls for audience participation in devious ways. For example, we’re asked to vote for our favorite rock ‘n roll performers via green or red voting sticks while bright stage lights beam down on us. The props look like auction paddle sticks. From the stage, we audience members must look like we are bidding on the Black people on stage. Note that Scruggs is giving us the choice to engage with the performance. He gives us the choice repeatedly.

Later we are asked to respond to the socially acceptable albeit scripted racism spewed by an actor. I found these intense moments offensive. I was not offended by Scruggs’ script, nor by the actors on stage. I was offended by the behavior of the “liberal when it’s convenient” audience of which I was a member. When we were called upon to speak out against racism, we didn’t. We let it happen. We didn’t fight back. If a small mass of people can’t do what’s right when it doesn’t matter then they cannot be depended upon to do what’s right when it does. The inaction of people who mean well but won’t do well should offend everyone. Allowing racist behavior to go unchecked in a controlled environment means that the very same people in the audience would certainly allow it to happen in an uncontrolled environment. Boston is not so liberal after all. 

The opening video montage by Jason Batcheller was at once disturbing for its immediate cultural relevance, and enticing for its easily recognizable pop iconography. He juxtaposes vintage Black culture with contemporary music videos featuring Black artists. In the former, all depicted Black people were appropriated for safe consumption by white people. In the latter, the white gaze is obscured to falsely empower Black artists. At first glance, the comparison is funny. At second, third and fourth, an attentive mind will notice the unsettling similarities between the two. Racism isn’t dead; it’s disguised as capitalism.

We are all responsible for ending racism (and non-intersectional feminism). No one gets a pass because Boston is a liberal city on paper. Existing in a world where white supremacy is the anticipated default requires one to actively seek out equality. Don’t let the angry rants of bigots shock you into inaction. It is time to choose to be effective.


Queen’s Note:
We elected a thin-skinned Nazi to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.

Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

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