Exploring Education at WIS
Student Response to Word Becomes Flesh
On September 27, the entire Upper School student body attended a special performance of Word Becomes Flesh, a spoken-word play by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and performed by an ensemble from Theater Alliance, a professional theater company whose home is the Anacostia Playhouse. A description from the Theater Alliance website:
“Using spoken word, stylized movement, tableau, and music, an ensemble of performers delivers a series of letters from a man to his unborn son, documenting his range of emotions, fears, and expectations. Theater Alliance’s “Word Becomes Flesh” critically, lyrically, and choreographically examines masculinity and responsibility from a young, expectant father’s perspective within the constructs of hip-hop culture.”
After the performance, students were given the opportunity to have a question-and-answer session with the actors and director. Below is one student’s response to this powerful performance.
"I have to admit that I was a little weirded out about seeing a play at 8:00 AM on a Wednesday morning, especially a play with a title that I found to be vague and relatively ambiguous. It wasn’t until Word Becomes Flesh had started that things clicked into place, along with my intrigued grin that I couldn’t seem to control. I watched the play intently and at times I cried, I frowned, I laughed. Sometimes I was so overwhelmed with emotion there was nothing I could do but lean forward and stare.
What I think is important to understand about Word Becomes Flesh is that this is a play about an aspect of Black livelihood that resonates with everyone in the community. Black fatherhood is a topic that is ongoing and the story of the absentee father is a story that seems to be as old as time. Nevertheless, it’s just as painful seeing it on the stage as it is experiencing it in real life.
I remember vividly what stuck out to me was the characterization of Black women as portrayed by Black men. While the play was overall uplifting about the reality of Black fatherhood, I did find myself wishing that they had portrayed the opposite sex in a light that was more than just physical. Yet, I didn’t mind, because in my opinion almost everything that was presented was a true representation of various situations that for some, I’m sure, is left slightly open to interpretation. Yes, it was sad, as a Black woman, to watch as they figuratively objectified the “imaginary” woman who walked across the stage. But, I realized that this is nothing new. In fact, the objectification and fetishization of Black women is something that I not only worked on in my Extended Essay, but also in my IB Art Higher Level pieces. As a result, this concept was not foreign to me, but this was only a fraction of what the play had to offer.
My absolute favorite part of the play was the “Negro Mentality” because of its unique portrayal, something I had never seen before but loved. This is where the creative direction in the play completely took me by surprise and had me hooked from my neck.
Visually, it was stunning.
The way the actors moved together and used each other to actively create this darker entity, because of its sheer size and the look on all of their faces, it was clear this was a much darker being. For some reason, in my gut, I knew what we were getting into, but I didn’t know the extent to which they would dive and unpack exactly what the “Negro Mentality” was and exactly where it came from for those in the audience who didn’t know. That whole moment gave me chills from the nape of my neck down my spine. When the female representation of Capitalism appeared and coerced Racism into creating a system that came in a nice package and benefitted both of them, I nearly burst out in tears for the second time— not out of sadness (although I’m sure somewhere that played a role), but rather due to the emotional rollercoaster that whole scene portrayed.
Now, I’m sure for those whose knowledge of Black culture only extends so far as new age Hip Hop and R&B, what is at the root of this play is relatively hard to understand. What I can tell you is that this is a play about the plight of the Black father as well as the Black son. And what this play does is give a voice to the fears of every generation—that you will bring someone into a world that is built on institutionalized racism. This play isn’t meant to necessarily make light of stereotypes; rather, it gives a perspective that we’ve never really seen before. What I love about this play the most is that it’s finally a representation of Black men as vulnerable, soft, caring, concerned, confused, and lost, and not the typical angry and aggressive portrayal that we see in popular media. If there is anything to be taken away from this play, it is that there are two sides to every story and that to be Black in a country that seems to be against you rather than with you is one of the most calamitous circumstances one can ever experience."
-Jessica J, Grade 12
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