This post is by new Chicago Slam Works Blogger, Dylan Weir.
A short tangent, if you’ll allow. After watching 12 Years A Slave (stay with me) I read somewhere that the film started with a question from director Steve McQueen: ‘why aren’t there any American films about slavery from the perspective of slaves, why don’t any realistically portray the horrors of slavery?’ Perhaps it takes some distance, some objectivity; perhaps most Americans don’t want to confront the inevitably uncomfortable truth. Whatever the answer to McQueen’s was, the project began with a dialogue; a conversation in which the silent majority would prefer to stay silent. This was in the fall of 2013. After this interview, I couldn’t help but think of the aforementioned experience.
This past Sunday I had the pleasure of sitting down with the cast of the upcoming Chicago Slam Works House Ensemble production: Redlined. The ensemble’s last performance, One Day When We Are All Robots, was an interrogation of the myriad ways in which technology isolates us all in the modern world. I saw the show’s final performance, uncontrollably laughing at times and tearing up at others, and so I jumped at the opportunity to talk with the cast. Our interview quickly became an informal yet fluid and unfiltered discussion of Chicago, segregation, gentrification, socioeconomics, race, and the CTA. The poetry/performance/play is named after the main North/South line of the L, though the term carries multiple meanings all relevant to the performance.
Ensemble member Tegan Walsh-Davis explained: “It was an easy metaphor. The redline is this straight-shot artery through the city. That’s one of the things we were talking about early on, specifically, you get on the redline and pass through so many vastly different cultural segments of the city.” Rashaad Hall added, “We not only talk about culture, we talk about socio-economics as well. It (the redline) makes so many different shifts and you can see them all very visibly even when you’re in certain neighborhoods by the type of people riding the train.” J. Evelyn seemed to surmise one extremely important aspect of the production: “Everyone identifies themselves at some place on the redline, or neighborhood…” Evelyn continued, “I (audience members) can feel guilty or ashamed of where I am or where I’ve been or how I’ve reacted to certain areas. But it is unapologetic, which is what I appreciate the most about the piece itself.”
Redlined is bound to be a more ambitious project than its predecessor. There is no doubt that the subject matter will consist of some uncomfortable truths regarding race relations, economic disparity, and discrimination in education, to name a few. I ended the interview by asking the ensemble members what they hoped the audience would take away from the show. Frankiem Mitchell said: “I want a dialogue to start… Let’s talk about the contributing factors. I don’t want to keep having the same conversation.”
One thing is for certain: this show will lead to many conversations. Reggie Eldridge and J.W. Basilo, along with the ensemble will be presenting and articulating those uncomfortable realities in Redlined that so many people want to avoid. Just like Steve McQueen
Dylan Weir is a Chicago poet currently completing his M.A. in English at DePaul University. A semifinalist for the 2014 Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Award, his Poetry appears (or is forthcoming) in After Hours, Mobius, H_NMG_N, Literary Orphans, The Legendatry, Chicago Literati, Red Paint Hill, and others. Dylan’s a poetry reader for Gigantic Sequins, and on the staff of Antrhopoid.