In her book “The New Jim Crow,” author Michelle Alexander argues that the mass incarceration of African-American males in the United States has become the modern equivalent of the Civil War-era laws enforcing racial segregation. This spring, the Painted Bride will convene a group of multidisciplinary Philadelphia artists to tackle the book’s weighty issues in the show “Souls of Black Folk II: The New Jim Crow.”
The piece is a follow-up to last year’s “Souls of Black Folk,” a similarly wide-ranging performance piece adapted from W.E.B. Du Bois’ classic book of essays. But while that show spotlighted a variety of artists each creating their own separate response to the source material, “The New Jim Crow” is a fully collaborative work, created over monthly meetings since last fall by nine artists under the direction of facilitator Cara Blouin.
When she first contemplated how to take on the book, theater artist Amelia Longo says, “I was honestly scared sh—less. I didn’t know what I, as a white woman, was going to be able to say or do in relation to this particular story.”
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Over the months, the group settled on a talk show format, providing a loose framework for a piece that involves theater, dance, spoken word and visual art, as well as opportunities to present both factual material and emotional moments.
“There was always the question of how we would present the facts in a way that isn’t boring, just numbers on a screen,” says LaNeshe Miller-White, both a theater artists involved in the piece, as well as the Bride’s marketing manager.
“It’s important to get out good information but still engage people emotionally; if we don’t grab them on that level they wont really pay attention.”
Race has been a prevalent topic in the Bride’s current season, as it has in the country as a whole. Miller-White says that these shows “came together at the same time that Black Lives Matter started happening. So because it’s at the forefront of artists’ minds, it’s come to the forefront of our calendar and curatorial vision.”
It’s an important topic for Longo, too, who says that even the local theater community seems to often be divided along racial lines.
If you go:
Souls of Black Folk II: The New Jim Crow
April 28, 7 p.m.
Painted Bride Art Center
230 Vine St.