As I’ve indicated before, I don’t always write up the live performances that we see at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). Sometimes, this is because they are concerts (where I don’t have a set list in advance) and I don’t know the names of all the pieces. Other times, they are performance pieces, such as the recent astounding “Hotel” from Cirque Eloize, which had to be seen and just no written description could fit. But sometimes we see a piece that deserves a writeup. Step Afrika!‘s piece “Drumfolk”, which we saw Sunday afternoon, as such a piece. For those unfamiliar with Step Afrika!, is it a professional company dedicated to the tradition of stepping — a dance form that uses the body as a percussive instrument. The company promotes stepping as a contemporary dance genre, using that art form to creates programs that expand on stepping’s unique place in history, and often doing a deep exploration of the African-American experience.
The heart of Drumfolk was an exploration of the Stono Rebellion of 1739, a revolt initiated by 20 enslaved Africans in the colony of South Carolina. In response to the rebellion, colonial leadership got the crown to pass the Negro Act of 1740. The act made it illegal for enslaved Africans to move abroad, assemble in groups, raise food, earn money, and learn to write (though reading was not proscribed). Additionally, owners were permitted to kill rebellious slaves if necessary. The Act remained in effect until 1865. It also singled out drumps as an illegal weapon, and took away the right for slaves to own or play the drums. However, as the program for the show noted, “They took the drums away… but they could not stop the beat.”
When I heard that line during the show, I harkened back to another production that explored the place of the beat in the African American experience: Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk. That musical explored a much broader swath of history and experience, but both demonstrated the centrality of the drum and the beat, and of dance and movement, to the African American experience.
The program that we saw (which evidently was recently designed … something like 4 days before our performance) consisted of three pieces:
- Drumfolk20. A demonstration of creation of rhythm with the human body — the drumfolk. Choreography by David Pleasant, Jakari Sherman, Jeeda Barrington (FB), and Mfoniso Akpan (FB).
- Stono. An exploration of the Stono Rebellion. Choreography by Ronnique Murray, Jakari Sherman, Jordan Spry, Mfoniso Akpan (FB), and Júlio Leitão (FB).
- Un/Afraid. A response to the Negro Act of 1740, showing how when the drum was physically taken away, other forms like beatboxing, hip hop, and stepping moved in as a virtual drum to retain significance in the community. Choreography by Jakari Sherman with contributions from Jeeda Barrington (FB), Conrad Kelly, and Dustin Praylow.
Overall, I found this to be a very enjoyable and informative presentation.
The production featured Taylor McFerrin and the members of Step Afrika!: Kofi Agyei,Jeeda Barrington (FB), Jamaal Collier, Dionne Eleby, Matthew Evans, Conrad Kelly, Misha Michel, Vincent Montgomery, Joe Murchison, Ronnique Murray, Dustin Praylow, Anesia Sandifer, Brittny Smith, Jordan Spry, and Nicholas Stewart.
The creative and production team consisted of: C. Brian Williams Founder and Executive Director; Jakari Sherman Director; Mfoniso Akpan (FB) Artistic Director; Simone Baskerville Production Manager & Touring Stage Manager; Kenaan M. Quander Costume Designer; Erik Teague Mask Designer; Mary Rathell Wardrobe Assistant; Marianne Meadows Lighting Designer; Yannick Godts Lighting Supervisor; Steven M. Allen Composer; Kevin Alexander Sound Designer; and Jeremiah L. Davison Sound Engineer.
This was the only performance of Step Afrika! at the Soraya this year.
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.
As for the last weekend of February, I’ll be in Madison WI visiting my daughter, the the lineup she has scheduled is busy: The Revolutionists from Mercury Players Theatre/Bartell Theatre on the UW Madison campus on Friday (Eileen Evers is an alternative); the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company on Saturday (columbinus at Edgewood College is the bad weather backup), and MST 3000 on Sunday. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes due to this.
March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB). The second weekend of May brings a concert performance of Randy Newman’s Faust at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). The third weekend of May brings A Man of No Importance at Actors Co-op (FB) . The fourth and fifth weekends are currently open, but I”m eyeing a production at the Fountain Theatre for our synagogue’s live theatre group during that time.
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!