*Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theatre (NBT) has joined forces with Hi-ARTS for the world premiere of The Peculiar Patriot.
The one-woman show, written and performed by Liza Jessie Peterson and directed by Talvin Wilks, is a scathing portrait of mass incarceration gleaned from Peterson’s nearly two decades of work in prisons in New York City.
The multimedia performance, which kicks off NBT’s 49th season, “Black to the Future,” will preview from September 13 to September 16, open on September 17 and run through October 1.
The Peculiar Patriot confronts the complex and critical issue of mass incarceration. With more than 2.5 million people behind bars, America is the world’s leading prison superpower. The Peculiar Patriotexamines the human impact and inhuman machinery of the prison industrial complex and shines a glaring light on the racial disparities that feed the draconian system.
The Peculiar Patriot follows protagonist Betsy LaQuanda Ross, a self-proclaimed peculiar patriot, as she makes regular visits to penitentiaries to boost the morale of her incarcerated friends and family, navigating love amid barbed wire. As she shares neighborhood updates and gossip and reminisces about family, Betsy delivers a shrewd indictment of the criminal justice system in her own authentic and inimitable style, with a heavy dose of humor to boot.
“Mass incarceration is slavery remixed. As soon as you see the handcuffs go ka-klink, you’ll hear the cash register go cha-ching. It is unconscionable that there is a profit motive for building prison beds and making sure they’re filled with bodies disproportionately Black and brown,” said Peterson. “This is America’s most urgent human rights crisis happening right before our very eyes, and I am compelled as a concerned citizen artist to bring urgent attention to the issue.”
The writer-actress-activist was early in sounding the alarm on the mass incarceration crisis, having first developed the play in 2003. She has performed excerpts from it in more than 35 penitentiaries across the country, and opened for Angela Davis at a recent Columbia University conference on mass incarceration. Peterson was recently featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary The 13th.
“Consciously or unconsciously, we have bought into the tropes that Black men are this country’s singular prey and Black women’s pain and duty exist solely as an extension of his oppression.
Not only is this Peculiar Patriot stereotype inaccurate, it is also dangerous and highly misogynistic, perpetuating the patriarchy,” said National Black Theatre CEO Sade Lythcott. “This season we will continue to tackle the dismantling of America’s prison industrial complex, but from the perspective of the Black woman in an effort to heal our women, communities and the nation at large.”
“Liza Jessie Peterson’s impactful performance gives the audience numerous points of entry to understanding the impact of the criminal justice system in a highly nuanced way. In a wider sense, The Peculiar Patriot sparks an engaged dialogue on the intersection of race, class, gender, and power,” said Hi-ARTS Executive Director Raymond Codrington. “In the current time, where new forms of activism are emerging, this piece is extremely relevant as it draws our attention to the role of the arts in social justice movements. Hi-ARTS is glad to partner with the National Black Theatre to bring this work the attention it deserves.”
Scenic and lighting design is by Maruti Evans, projections are by Katherine Freer and sound design is by Luqman Brown.
Previews are at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 13, through Saturday, September 16; preview tickets are $20. The production officially opens on Sunday, September 17, with an Opening Night Gala that includes a 4 p.m. show followed by a reception.
Performances will run Sundays at 4 p.m.; Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $35 general admission with the following exceptions: The Opening Night Gala ticket is $50 and the final performance is $40. A discounted ticket price of $25 is available for groups of 10 or more, senior citizens, students, active military members, and veterans. Tickets can be purchased online at www.nationalblacktheatre.org, by calling NBT directly at (212) 722-3800 or at NBT’s box office, open from 1 to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. National Black Theatre is located at 2031 Fifth Avenue between 125th and 126th streets in Harlem. (Take the 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 subway to 125th Street.)
Follow NBT on Facebook (@NationalBlackTheatre) and Twitter/Instagram (@NatBlackTheatre). Follow Hi-ARTS on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@hiartsnyc).
About the Playwright/Actor:
Liza Jessie Peterson (Betsy LaQuanda Ross) Liza Jessie Peterson is a renowned actress, poet, playwright, educator and activist who has been steadfast in her commitment to incarcerated populations both professionally and artistically, but specifically with adolescent boys and girls detained at Rikers Island who she has worked with for 19 years. She has served as a program counselor for the Department of Corrections, a reentry specialist, a teaching artist (with poetry and theater), GED instructor for the Board of Education at Rikers Island and a life skills workshop facilitator. Peterson was a consultant on Bill Moyers’ documentary Rikers: An American Jail (PBS).
She has written several plays, including, The Peculiar Patriot. Also known for her exceptional poetic skills, Liza began her poetry career at the Nuyorican Poets Café and was an important member of the enclave of notable poets who were part of the underground slam poetry movement. It was this electric group of artists that inspired Russell Simmons to bring spoken word to HBO where Liza appeared on two episodes of Def Poetry. As an actress Liza appeared in several feature films: Love the Hard Way (costarring with Pam Grier and Adrien Brody), Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, K. Shalini’s A Drop of Life, and Jamie Catto’s What About Me. Liza’s first book, ALL DAY; A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island, is available in bookstores now. Twitter @lizajessiep, Facebook @liza.j.peterson and Instagram @lizajessiepeterson
About the Director:
Talvin Wilks is a playwright, director and dramaturg. His plays include Tod, the boy, Tod; The Trial of Uncle S&M; Bread of Heaven; An American Triptych; Jimmy and Lorraine and As I Remember It with Carmen de Lavallade. Directorial projects include the world and regional premiere productions of Udu by Sekou Sundiata, The Love Space Demands by Ntozake Shange, the Obie Award/AUDELCO Award winning The Shaneequa Chronicles by Stephanie Berry, Relativity by Cassandra Medley and The Ballad of Emmett Till by Ifa Bayeza.
He has served as cowriter-codirector-dramaturg for 10 productions in Ping Chong’s ongoing series of Undesirable Elements and three productions of Collidescope: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America. He was the company dramaturg for five collaborations with the Bebe Miller Company: Going to the Wall; the Bessie Award winning, Verge; Landing/Place, for which he received a 2006 Bessie Award; Necessary Beauty and A History. Recent dramaturgical collaborations also include work with Camille A. Brown & Dancers (Mr. TOL E. RAncE, Black Girl: Linguistic Play and ink), Urban Bush Women (Hep Hep Sweet Sweet, Walking with ’Trane and SCAT!), Baba Israel (The Spinning Wheel) and Ain Gordon (Radicals in Miniature). He was a researcher-cocurator-dramaturg for the 2013 Sekou Sundiata Retrospective, Blink Your Eyes, and the Aunt Ester Cycle at the August Wilson Center in 2009.
He is currently writing a book on black theater, Testament: 40 Years of Black Theatre History in the Making, 1964-2004; and is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Minnesota/Twin Cities. Facebook @talvin.wilks
About the Producers
Founded by visionary Dr. Barbara Ann Teer in 1968, National Black Theatre (NBT) is a nationally recognized cultural and educational institution. Dr. Teer pioneered “the healing art of black theatre as an instrument for wholeness in urban communities where entrepreneurial artists of African descent live and work.” In 1983, Dr. Teer expanded the vision of NBT by purchasing a 64,000-square-foot building on 125th Street and Fifth Avenue (renamed “National Black Theatre Way” by local law in 1994).
This was the first revenue-generating Black arts complex in the country, an innovative arrangement through which for-profit businesses who shared NBT’s spiritual and aesthetic values rented retail space to subsidize the arts. Out of her vision, NBT houses the largest collection of Nigerian new sacred art in the Western hemisphere and is considered the authentic representation of a model whose time has come.
NBT is partially supported by grants from the City Council of New York, City of New York Department of Cultural Affairs, Ford Foundation, Columbia Service Society and private donations. Visit www.nationalblacktheatre.org or follow NBT on Facebook (@NationalBlackTheatre) and Twitter/Instagram (@NatBlackTheatre).
Located at the center of creative and community practice in El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109, Hi-ARTS is dedicated to advancing urban art by empowering artists to develop bold new works while creating a lasting and positive impact on communities.
For 17 years, the organization has consistently broken new ground by presenting the work of artists from historically marginalized groups and finding creative and artistic ways to address issues related to equity and social justice. Hi-ARTS presents and produces art that truly reflects the diversity of New York City, giving voice to and celebrating traditionally underrepresented narratives and populations.
Serving as a development space, Hi-ARTS works with artists to innovate and incubate theater and performance work along with visual arts and youth education. The commitment to this work has developed programming and an audience that is unique within the arts and culture landscape.
Hi-ARTS is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Lucille Lortel Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, New York City Council, New York Department of Cultural Affairs, New York Community Trust, New York State Council of the Arts, DC Commission for the Arts and Humanities and individual donors. Visit www.hi-artsnyc.org or follow Hi-ARTS on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@hiartsnyc).