(Ed. Note: The following open letter is shared here with Will Power’s permission. The TCG Circle will soon be hosting a series of posts responding to the Trayvon Martin murder and trial, and what those things mean to theatre artists and our culture at large. If you would like to participate in that series, please email Gus Schulenburg.)
OPEN LETTER ATLANTIC CENTER FOR THE ARTS: WHY I WON’T PLAY FLORIDA
Dear Nick Conroy,
Thank you for your invitation to participate in a three-week engagement at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna, Florida. I was initially thrilled to come. As you explained it to me, the nature of the work I’d be doing at the Center-blending presentation with teaching the craft of playmaking to emerging artists is exactly the kind of artistic engagement I love to do. Also, the financial honorarium you and your organization offered was generous indeed, and would’ve went a long way towards helping my wife and I build a future for our family, which is where much of my energy is going these days.
However, I cannot accept your invitation. Recently in the state of Florida, a young, unarmed African-American man, was senselessly gunned down for no reason other than that he looked “suspicious” by one George Zimmerman. I am an African-American man, and so are many members of my family and community, and one day my son will be an African-American man. It doesn’t feel right to engage in the artistic and spiritual practice of creating theatre in a state that has a Stand Your Ground Law, a law that basically condones the use of violence against African-American men, as was the case with Trayvon Martin.
In making this decision I have consulted many friends and mentors. One of the arguments I have heard in favor of me coming and working in Florida is that I am not Jay-Z or Justin Timberlake, and that me not coming to the Sunshine State would not have much of an economic impact. True, I am not a celebrity. I am a working artist, I travel nationally and internationally creating and presenting works of theatre, while teaching and engaging diverse communities. For me, the idea that only artists who can fill arenas should participate in a boycott is ludicrous. If anything, it is the so-called arts-activists who should be active in this stand against racial injustice. I’ve also been advised to go to Florida to “work and make change from the inside.” This is a valid argument. But at the core of this three-week engagement is a residency in which like minded artists would fly from all over the country to study theatre under my leadership-so if I’m asking them to come to Florida, where this horrible atrocity happened and a killer walks free, and a law is in place to allow future killers to walk free, then exactly where am I leading these emerging artists? What message am I sending to them, and what will they take back to their communities? That it’s ok to cross a boycott and not join in on the stand against racial injustice as long as you’re doing and learning something “positive?” This line of thinking doesn’t hold for me.
In closing, I’d like to say that I’ve heard nothing but stellar things about your organization, both the work that it does and the ways it fosters creative learning and growth amongst artists. Once the Stand Your Ground Law is repealed in Florida, I would be more than willing to revisit the possibility of me coming to the Atlantic Center for the Arts. In the meantime, if you and/or the Center decide to produce a fundraiser, or any event specifically geared towards changing the Stand Your Ground Law and ending the racial injustices that have happened and continue to happen, I will quickly get on a plane and come down to help the cause in any way I can. We MUST repeal the Stand your Ground Law. Until that time, I won’t play Florida.
Will Power is an award-winning playwright and performer. Power’s adaptation of the Greek tragedy Seven Against Thebes, retitled The Seven, enjoyed a successful Off-Broadway run at the New York Theater Workshop and The La Jolla Playhouse. His solo show FLOW was featured in the Hip Hop Theater Festival before touring nationally and internationally to critical acclaim. Power’s numerous awards include a United States Artist Prudential Fellowship, a Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical, the TCG Peter Zeisler Memorial Award, a Jury Award for Best Theatre Performance at the HBO US Comedy Arts Festival, a Drama Desk Award nomination, and the Trailblazer Award from The National Black Theater Network. Power’s numerous film and television appearances include The Steven Colbert Report (Comedy Central), and Bill Moyers on Faith and Reason(PBS). Presently, Power is in the process of developing new works for The Dallas Theatre Center, The Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, Hartford Stage, and The Royal Shakespeare Company. Mr. Power spent his early years as a key member in two critically acclaimed avant-garde music groups, Midnight Voices and the Omar Sosa Sextet. With these groups Power recorded and toured extensively. More recently, Mr. Power has traveled on multiple occasions to teach Hip Hop lyricism and theatre across the globe. He has held a number of artist fellowships and guest teaching positions at institutions such as CCNY, Princeton University, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Will Power was a guest of the U.S. State Department on five separate occasions, traveling to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. On these trips and others, Mr. Power taught community workshops in shantytowns, worked with poets in former regimes of the Soviet Union, and lectured at various libraries, grammar schools, and colleges. Power is currently on the faculty at The Meadows School of the Arts/SMU, and the Mellon Foundation Playwright in Residence with the Dallas Theatre Center.