Today, I watched Mr. Joy, a play hosted by Arts Emerson and on performance at Zumix Firehouse Theater.
Mr Joy is a one-woman show written by Daniel Beaty, starring Adobuere Ebiama. The Zumix website describes it as this:
A Harlem community is shaken when Mr. Joy, a Chinese immigrant whose shoe repair shop has been a neighborhood pillar for decades, is the victim of an attack…[sic] Mr. Joy invites us to consider how we respond to violence as individuals and as a community, and the power of the invisible ties that bind us all.
More info here: http://www.zumix.org/community/events/mr-joy-east-boston
The sun was streaming through the tall Firehouse windows when we got there. My friend and I were ushered in by a Zumix high schooler named Angelina. The seats were about 80 percent full, and the audience members were a range of ages—from teens, to what I would guess would be 60s. A mix of ethnicities too.
Two Zumix emcees gave a quick intro, asked who in the crowd had come to Zumix events before. A few hands went up; most of us were here for the first time, and heard via word-of-mouth. The tone of the event invited relaxed participation; the emcees encouraged us to talk back to the performer and stay for a discussion after.
Adobuere Ebiama blew me away with her performance—she moved seamlessly about 7-8 characters in a 90 minute performance, without intermission. She captured each of the character’s nuances beautifully, from the way they spoke, moved, and interacted with the set. Three Zumix youth were also in the back of the room, controlling the sound and lighting.
The performance had everyone laughing, crying, and jumping to their feet by the end of it. Angelina and Jeeyoon (the program manager) came on-stage and followed up with a set of questions:
Throw out one word, any word, that described what you felt from the performance. (“Responsibility!” “Hope!”)
What parts of the play resonated with you personally? That you could relate to?
What actions, big or small, do you feel like you can offer up, that you could extend into your community? It could be as simple as having a conversation that might be uncomfortable, or something bigger.
The discussion centered around the meaning of home, displacement, and how communities evolve. The audience members were warm and supportive, nodding emphatically, snapping, and even applauding after someone shared their thoughts. Really gave me a feel for the kind of communities & conversations around the Zumix space.
Jeeyoon took us around for a tour of the building after, and we had a great conversation about the curriculum and Zumix’s vision. A few things that stood out to me:
- Zumix events are free. Zumix is well-aware of many barriers, whether financial, social, or age that might bar young people from even seeing their teachers perform at local venues. They try to invite teachers to play in-house because it makes the students’ practice seem “much more real.”
- Students really own their music and their classrooms. There were group code-of-conducts in every single room, which Zumixers write up and sign together. Students might also produce an entire CD that “an adult hasn’t touched at all.”
- Reactive curriculums. They emphasize adapting curriculums to student interests, and giving the student ownership over steering the class.
- Emotional support & growth. Jeeyoon described her close relationship with Angelina, who is involved in about 5 performance-related extracurriculars. It moved me how Jeeyoon was so invested in her best interest: “We really talk a lot… I didn’t want her to burn out.” We agreed that we were all impressed by the social awareness, public speaking skills, and vision of Angelina and her peers.
The show is playing again this Thursday and Friday, in the Strand Theater in Dorchester. You can get tickets here. The event was profoundly moving and I really encourage folks to go see it! I would be curious to hear how other organizations/venues present it.