I Hope You Dance: “Listen to Sipu”

Photo via the New Rep Facebook page.

Listen to Sipu: A Watertown Historical Moving Play
Presented by New Rep Theatre Company
In partnership with The Watertown Free Public Library, The Historical Society of Watertown, and The Pigsgusset Initiative.
Written by Morgan (Mwalim) J. Peters
Directed by Jaime Carrillo
Movement direction by Andre StrongBearHeart Gaines, Jr.
Soundscape artistry by Geraldine Barney
Dramaturgy by Angelique Dina
Dramaturgical assistance from Abby Lass and Tomantha Sylvester
Playbill LINK
Dramaturgical LINK to learn more

June 5 – July 11, 2021
Outdoors at the Commander’s Mansion (near the Mosesian Center for the Arts)
440 Talcott Avenue,
Watertown, MA 02472
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Details: Accessibility information and other performance facts are generously provided by New Rep HERE.

Review by Kitty Drexel

PIGSGUSSET/WATERTOWN — Listen to Sipu is about how Sipu (Maria Hendricks) absolutely pwns a Tour Guide (Grace Wagner) giving a talk about historical Watertown, MA race relations. Tour Guide tries to give a politically correct, psychically-comfortable estimation of Watertown’s origins. Sipu is having none of TG’s inaccuracies and tells us the true meaning of colonialist occupation. 

History is written by the victors, the saying attributed to Churchill goes. I remember learning in elementary school that white settlers peacefully negotiated with American natives to live together in harmony. Frankly, that’s white supremacist horseshit.

Listen to Sipu teaches us that white colonizers massacred the Pequossette and Nonantum tribes because they wanted the land. The Pequossette and Nonantum were peaceful people. It would’ve been easy to kill them. That sounds more likely of the British opportunist Roger Clap, a military man who shall henceforth be referred to as The Clap by this journalist, and his loyal men.   

Hendricks and Wagner do a stellar job of managing their audience, the landscape, their lines and potential disruptions. On the afternoon that I attended, Hendricks and Wagner negotiated with aplomb mic complications and unwilling volunteers. Neither wanted to participate. 

Wagner and a generous production assistant named Teddy with a powerful bass voice entertained the audience while Hendricks’ mic was checked behind some trellises. Teddy got the audience to cheer for Wagner who was reacting in character to the upset. She then got the ball rolling again once Hendricks reappeared. Hendricks came back onstage with enthusiasm for the performance. 

I felt empathy for both actresses when they asked for volunteers and no one stepped up immediately. Trying to enliven a reluctant audience can be a painful experience. They were prepared! They made do with the two individuals who did step up (one of them was me!) and kept the show’s energy up. 

It was fun: Sipu slapped my hand with a fish when I reached too early! I pretended I was in a boat! We danced together in community with each other – actors, characters, volunteers and residents! There’s a very different magic to standing next to storytellers in the midst of the story. It intensified the performance; it felt more real than not. Good actors find personal truth in the script they are narrating. Standing next to the actor is to stand in communion with that truth. 

Listen to Sipu should be taught in schools. It could replace the current white-supremacist local history curriculum. It’s already a moving play, it would be terrifically simple to adapt it to for stationary teenaged audiences once it is safe for actors to visit high schools again. Listen to Sipu isn’t critical race theory; it’s factual narrative. It isn’t easy to swallow but so little of our American history is. 

Observations on the moving aspects of this performance: 

Listen to Sipu runs approx. 60 minutes. This moving play moves to three, closely-related spots on a prettily manicured lawn and under a grape trellis near the Mansion. Audience members are at each location for about 20 minutes each.

Seating is not available. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs. 

Bring bug spray if you are delicious to insects and tissues if injustice brings you to tears.

LTS is a participatory performance! Volunteers are asked to play secondary and tertiary roles to Sipu’s story. There is a simple dance ritual near the end of the performance. One doesn’t need training, slick moves or even rhythm to participate. The stakes are super low for volunteers; the more people who dance, the more effective the performance at building community. As Gladys Knight (via Lee Ann Womack) says, I hope you dance. 

Dear Readers: Please do yourself a favor and visit the The Pigsgusset Initiative. You will be doing the world a favor by doing so. Then make a donation. If you live in New England, it behooves us all to reverse the evil acts of our colonialist ancestors by doing good works now. It may not be our fault but it is our responsibility. 

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