“What’s your favorite store?” she asks.
“Um…Topshop?” I reply.
The gregarious teen pauses and squints her eye as she looks at me.
All of a sudden she exclaims, “you’re a Commie!”
“Well alright then,” I say laughingly.
She writes something on a sticker and hands it to me. I look down at it.
HELLO MY NAME IS
“Try not to take over the world” she reminds me as she twirls away.
This was a conversation during my wait for the play Nerds, Sluts, (Commies!) and Jocks at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, presented by Free Street Theater and directed by L’oreal Jackson and Coya Paz. Free Street Theater is a multi-generational company. However, this particular play was created and performed by the teen actors.
The skittish young lady I met was actually one of the performers interacting with audience members and labeling viewers with name stickers. I watched others being asked the same question, and receive the labels “Jock” or “Nerd.”
I shrugged, placed my sticker on my chest and walked inside the theater waiting to find out why I had been labeled a “Commie.”
At the beginning of the show the audience is introduced to the central figures of the play: a black baby doll and the French philosopher Foucault. The play is composed of a series of group and solo scenes that all seem to be grounded and transitioned by Foucault and the performers educating the baby about being a teenager in race conscious, capitalist America.
Right away, the actors bust down the many doors of labeling with a bulldozer, exposing all the ugliness of it, its deep root in our society, and the many ways we accept, challenge or ignore it. Foucault and the performers never forget to remind us of America’s murky past with labeling. Through bits of America’s history, politics and Foucault’s theories of power, we are guided through everyday scenarios that we have all more or less experienced. Racial slurs, stereotypes, names, gender, nationality, and sexual identity, are all put to the test.
Although the play was mostly humorous, it was certainly not without its serious moments.
In the “small Asian girl” scene performed by Francis Herrera-Lim, we laugh and ruminate on how Herrera-Lim handles stereotypes. She gives an outstanding performance as she admits to letting comments slide, but ends with being fed up with the oppressor that constantly notices only her race.
Politics were not excluded. No sir, because what is a labeling without being tangled in the stickiness of history and politics? Audiences were zoomed out from just the high school picture and got down with Capitalism, Marxism and Communism. The performers and creators made sure to remind viewers that political systems are significant even when being a teenager.
It was enjoyable to get to know each actor through their respective solo scenes. The play was well balanced in this aspect. Although there were parts, especially in the beginning, that seemed rushed in pace and speech, I found myself having to crack my neck from nodding my head way too much.
These young activists pack a punch, perhaps a beating. All while making you laugh, listen intently, and snap your fingers at the same time.
I caught up with actors Seline Racey and Patrick C. Blankton after the show and talked to them briefly about the process of creating such a production. Even while speaking with them I was taken back at their honest vision and tenacity. I could not leave without thanking them for making their work matter, especially to the younger generation.
It is so remarkable to see these teens realize the voice they have and use it until they are out of breath. This is the passion and importance I felt in this production. I left the show moved by this younger generation and their clear, fiery desire to reach out to the viewers. It’s no wonder that they recently grabbed the attention of ABC 7 News.
So, if you are like me and are constantly surrounded by certain teens who are absorbed in their instagram feed, or really anyone who doesn’t pay any mind to the broader picture and gives you a look of confusion when you ask them not to say the word “gay” because it is offensive, then you need to tell them about Free Street Theater and Nerds, Sluts, (Commies) and Jocks.