On Feb. 11, 2009, PPTCO presented Angry Black Man Poetry at Teatr Slaski in Katowice, Poland. The production was part of Teatr Slaski’s “American Frontier” festival, or Festival of the Americas, which presented audiences with American photography, music, dance, theater, and poetry. Upon return home to Pittsburgh, Angry Black Man Poetry cast member Carter Redwood, a current high school junior, wrote the following chronicle of the experience that was published in The New Pittsburgh Courier:
Who knew that the election of President Barack Obama would land me in Poland?! Angry Black Man Poetry is the brainchild of my mentor, founder and Artistic Director of the Pittsburgh Playwrights’ Theatre Co., Mark Clayton Southers. The piece chronicles the “Black Experience” in regards to slavery to Obama. During the week of February 7-14, the show was taken to Katowice, Poland to perform in Teatr Slavski’s Festival of the Americas. As a member of the cast, and a newbie to international travel, it was a better experience then I could’ve asked for. Teatr Slaski is the main venue for theatre in town, and a great deal of advertisement was put out to try and expose the Polish natives to something they certainly don’t see every day.
In addition to performing, we did a bit of sightseeing and traveling. We got the chance to visit the grave of Ira Aldrige, famed African-American actor, revered as the one of the best Shakespeare Othellos ever. The same day we got the opportunity to stop by the Black Madonna; to the Polish it is known as the Mother of the Mount of Light, which is a large portrait of Mary holding baby Jesus, which looks to be of African descent. One of the traditional things that people do is crawl around the effigy on their knees, praising and asking for the things deep in their hearts. A lady came to us to explain what was going on; she was with us for about an hour and posed as our tour guide. She explained the many miracles she’s witnessed there, including people healed on the spot. Before we were about take part in the crawl ourselves, she revealed, “if you ask for a lot and you get half of that, you’ll still have a lot; if you ask for a little and get half of that, you don’t have that much.” While crawling through, something hit me, and I realized the once in a lifetime opportunity I was taking part in; I began to bawl uncontrollably. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. A few days later we stopped by Auschwitz and Birkenau. This was a solemn and very humbling encounter. The snow and the cold added to the intensity of the place, making it even more uncomfortable then expected. I remember trying my best not to touch anything, not even doors leading into other rooms and places. Before we got to the museums, we were the first ones at Birkenau and walked around the place on our own to see everything close up. The land seemed barren and eerie, and I know for a fact I wasn’t the only one who felt uneasy.
The audience was very open and seemed to have accepted the show pretty well. Afterwards, there was a talk-back where Mark got to explain first hand his influence for writing the show, and the cast got to give personal responses to the show and its creation. As well as knowing how it affected the creation of the show, they wanted to know our personal responses to the election and what it meant for each of us. It’s still hard for me to believe that an event as great as this happened during my lifetime. As a young boy, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d anxiously reply “the first black President.” I knew it would be incredible if something like that was to happen, but even then, I’d said it with the slight belief that it was impossible. I would say it because it seemed like such a difficult feat to accomplish. The day after the election, I remember going to school and hearing people screaming in the hallways and the stairwells. I was still in total shock, but that’s when I really started to realize the affect it had on people – young people even! Even now that he’s been in office for a few weeks, I still think back to that day. I think about where I was and what I was doing at the exact moment it was announced. This stands as such a pivotal moment in history, because the decision was more than black and white, it was a majority.
Mark wrote a lot of poetry back in 1998, but took a brief hiatus to focus more on his playwrighting. The night Obama won office, Mark wrote a poem about it, then a few more, until eventually the idea for Angry Black Man Poetry sprang up. He pieced together the many poems he wrote nearly ten years ago along with the new ones and a few scenes from his shows to arrange the piece. The fact that I was in Poland during Black History Month, presenting a show about African-Americans made February this year very different for me. I am extremely lucky to have had such a wonderful opportunity and to know people like Mark Clayton Southers, who are constantly growing artistically and “bringing cultures together.”