Ebo Barton, in character and on stage at Gay City’s theater space, spoke from behind a ribbon of yellow caution tape.
Barton plays the character of a queer mother who was taking their child out for ice cream before being shot in a deadly encounter with the police.
“I always knew it was going to be like this,” Barton said in character, beside fellow actors Kamari Bright and Simone Dawson. “You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready. Something told me to start living, really living.”
I was sitting in on the rehearsal for Seattle Civic Poet Anastacia Renee Tolbert’s newest play “Queer, Mama. Crossroads,” which will debut for a four-night run on April 12 at Gay City.
Sitting in the darkened theater listening to this variation on an all too familiar story, I was surprised to find myself on the verge of tears.
I have lost track of how many vigils have been held, how many murders videotaped and shared for viral consumption, how many hashtags, and police acquittals have taken place since the Black Lives Matter movement began asking people to care about what has been happening for centuries. On most days it feels too overwhelming to contemplate. Often, I am numb, but something about Barton’s monologue cuts to the core.
“This play is timely because it’s been timely. It’s not a new thing,” Tolbert said to me afterward. “These occurrences and things that are happening are not new, but I feel like maybe people are more open to watch and listen about it, but not that things are any different that they were.”
We’ve all seen the statistics. It’s common knowledge that people of color, especially black folks are disproportionately impacted by police violence, but for the most part the most prominent victims are black men. Black women and black people from the LGBTQ+ community less often get the same level of national attention.
“It just felt like a story that needed to be told and need to be shared with a very very very talented writer and creator,” actor Simone Dawson said to me. Dawson also plays the role of a slain queer mother. “I’m not a queer mom, but I have a queer mom. I also have a brother who is 20, but has looked 30 since he was 15 so I’ve constantly gone through wondering if my mom or my brother are going to come home.”
For Tolbert, who is a queer mom, it is that unspoken fear she wants to unpack.
“My kids and I have spend our entire 23 and 19 years of each wondering if the other one is going to survive and that is something I don’t talk about a lot,” Tolbert said. Not a week goes by that she feels the need to check in with her sons so they can be mutually assured of each other’s safety.
Naa Akua plays the role of Spirit Guide.
“The reason why I said yes to doing this play was that I haven’t heard anybody do something like this,” Akua said. “Also we don’t really hear so many of the names of people who are being taken out of this world everyday.”
At the recent rehearsal, the cast gathers on and around the stage. They are diverse in ages and genders, but they are all queer and all people of color who have thought deeply about these invisible tragedies. This not only comes as a part of rehearsal and connecting with this play, but in the context of their own lives.
“I don’t know if this was intentional…but I understood why she chose me for the role because I often feel as a trans non binary person that our stories always get erased from any story like this,” Barton said.
Jalayna Walton who plays the role of Ansister/Ancestor echoes the sentiment.
“Coming from a place where as a queer person I am silenced and I am supposed to be reserved about that and I’m supposed to be…to not be heard,” Walton said. “This project directly pushes back against that and that’s the importance of it, taking up space as a queer person, making noise, and drawing attention to yourself as a queer person.”
Cast member Kamari Bright said “Queer, Mama. Crossroads” is more than just a play.
Beyond taking up space, this play is about cultivating empathy, giving voice to the silenced, and creating a forum for a much needed community dialogue on grief, violence and how to move forward.
“I would hope that the audience could be here and bear witness and listen with the intent of understanding the message and not taking it for just a play or whatever they might have preconceived in their minds,” Bright said. “Actually just earnestly coming and trying to understand what’s being communicated with this.”
“Queer, Mama. Crossroads”
Gay City, April 12-15. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show starts at 7 p.m. General Admission os $15 to $20. Students, Seniors, People with Disabilities $12