Who are the mothers, the children, the grandchildren of America's Death Row? How can their stories help us create a stronger, more just and compassionate society?
A GOOD BOY isa collaboration with the families of America's Death Row a new music theater piece a chance to reimagine our incarceration policies the latest component of the Hidden Voices project SERVING LIFE: ReVisioning Justice
A GOOD BOY brings centerstage stories ancient as humanity— of fear and hope, justice and mercy, forgiveness and revenge. This contemporary music theater work invites us to reconsider our most essential values as we explore the true meaning of justice in our lives, our communities, and our nation.
HELP BRING THESE STORIES TO A NATIONAL AUDIENCE IN 2020
Death Row is a microcosm of our over-incarcerated nation, but we rarely think of those we execute, much less their families. Even if the men are “not guilty,” they’re perceived as “not innocent enough,” and their families carry the same burden of shame and guilt by association. Yet, their stories—mothers, children, brothers, grandparents—are riveting and true, and challenge us to reconsider our assumptions about exactly who is allowed to be “a good boy.”
Art can transform individuals and cultures. The US is the only western country that still executes our own. We have the opportunity, in the foreseeable future, to eliminate not only executions but the inhumanity of our vast carceral state by sharing these very human stories with the audiences these families asked us to reach: those with “a voice and a vote.”
HELP BRING THESE STORIES TO A NATIONAL AUDIENCE IN 2020.
Join our team. Donate here. Stay in touch.
A STORY IS BORN:
Standing before us, applauding, whistling, weeping, was an audience of 450 students, community members, and families of men on death row. They had just witnessed a performance of the men’s stories, created through the play COUNT: Stories from America’s Death Row. The families were in tears; they had never imagined an audience caring. Nor had they, until that night, met others with a loved one sentenced to execution. As they left, one mother turned to us.
“What I want to know is, when are you going to tell OUR story?”
The air was electric with the “NOW” of an incarnating idea.
“We don’t know. But we promise you, we will.”
The mothers’ emotions—the love for their children, the grief over the crimes or innocence—were so deep and transcendent, we knew immediately the piece required the powerful witness of the sung word.
THE VOICES GATHER:
In 2017, we unsure whether COUNT: Stories from America’s Death Row would garner an audience. The title was pretty explicit. Yet, every performance sold out, breaking box office records and testifying to a profound communal desire to understand the lives our society/culture has chosen to obscure.
After one performance, a tearful woman said, “You got it exactly right.” Her brother had been executed in April. When she learned we were interviewing family members, she asked to participate.
Our collaborators on death row invited their families, too. With seed funding from the Triangle Community Foundation, we traveled, photographed, and listened to families across the country. It was through those conversations that the title of the piece took form, as mother after mother said, “He was a good boy.”
“All I have is the hope I'll be around when my son walks out that prison door. That hope sets in my prayers. I just want to put my arms around him again. Sometimes, when we visit, I put my hands up against that glass, and I can feel heat. When I have my hands up there and he puts his hands up facing mine, you can feel the heat, even through the glass.”
THE MUSIC ARRIVES:
We knew such lived experiences would intimately shape the conversation between story and music. But we had no idea how to uncover the musical/vocal aesthetics able reveal those truths. We just knew that because women composers are underrepresented, and because mothers are the heart of this story, we wanted to work with a female composer.
Enter Dana Reason. In June 2018, the UNC-Chapel Hill Dept of Music hosted a residency for Dana and the artistic team (Kathy Williams, Lynden Harris, Marc Callahan). Dana suggested that the ranges, complexities, and depths of the families’ stories meant we needed various stylistic lenses—reworked to reflect the blues, then worship and praise, then operatic lament. The whole diasporic American sonic landscape was integral to telling these stories. She was right.
THE STORIES AND SONGS UNFOLD:
Recently, the team gathered for a second residency, with support from a Critical Issues grant, the Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, and the UNC-Chapel Hill Music Department. This time, actor-singers joined us to explore potential scenes and songs. The video clips include a portion of the opening scene and showcase songs-in-progress sharing stories from mothers, children, siblings, and more.
(Dana Reason on piano. Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Chase, Jennifer Evans as Mary, LaToya Lain as Yolanda, Rahsaan McNeill as Bradley, and Ariana Wyatt as Heather)
THE END OF THE STORY:
Isn’t written yet. Literally and figuratively. Our timeline includes a WORLD PREMIERE in 2020, followed by performances in venues across the country. But this final push to production will require a network of supporters who understand the power of art to connect across difference and believe in this vision for change.
Please help bring these stories to a national audience in Fall 2020. Join our team. Donate here. Stay in touch. Change is within sight, but it will take many of us to bring that vision to fruition.
More about HIDDEN VOICES:
Our Mission: To challenge, strengthen, and connect our diverse communities through the transformative power of the individual voice.
Hidden Voices is a radically inclusive, participatory, and co-creative collective committed to creating a just, compassionate, and sustainable world. Our core values are simple: All lives have meaning. All stories matter.
Since 2003, Hidden Voices has collaborated with underrepresented communities to create award-winning works that combine narrative, mapping, performance, music, digital media, animation, and interactive exhibits to engage audiences and participants in explorations of difficult issues. Hidden Voices creates venues where stories from those rarely seen and heard by mainstream society take center stage. These life-changing stories provide insight about identity, place, and access. They help us understand the unrecognized, the unfamiliar, and displaced among us. The Hidden Voices process -- engage, empower, envision, enhance –facilitates a dynamic exchange between documentary, art, and community that allows for a multiplicity of voices and a multiplexity of understandings. By the close of a Hidden Voices project, between 10 and 20,000 individuals have engaged the work though interviews, workshops, exhibits, and performances.
Hidden Voices is a registered 501 (c) 3 non-profit, with more than 100 volunteers and contributing professionals supporting each project.