Soul Rep Theatre Company opens 25th Anniversary season with collaboration and creativity
By Cristee Cook
Soul Rep Theatre Company, now solidified as the longest-running Black theatre company in Dallas, is opening their 25th season with an audio play: Dael Orlandersmith’s My Red Hand, My Black Hand in collaboration with Cara Mia Theatre. In our interview, I spoke with Anyika McMillan-Herod (Co-Founder and Executive Director) and Tonya Holloway (Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director) about the audio play, and rising to meet the challenges of the pandemic and social justice. The play is directed by Guinea Bennett-Price (Soul Rep Co-Artistic Director/Co-Founder).
While Soul Rep was founded 25 years ago, the company took a 10-year hiatus from producing work on the Dallas stage. Still, the time served as a period of incubation and expansion that allowed Soul Rep to return at full power in 2013. The founding women took the opportunity to create community no matter where they were located geographically, and used the time to deepen their own work. When they reunited to commence work here in Dallas, their experiences during the hiatus proved to be a valuable starting point.
Soul Rep aims to provide a space for artists of color to create narratives by and for their own communities, with virtuous, powerful, human representation. The premiere of the audio play, My Red Hand, My Black Hand is the first production to reboot the Café Negro Series. With community collaboration as one of their core tenants, this partnership with Cara Mia was established in 1998. When Soul Rep returned to Dallas stages, McMillan-Herod shared that Cara Mia’s new leadership (Executive Artistic Director David Lozano) “was one of the first people to meet with us. He remembered the Cafe Negro Series, and asked ‘when are we going to bring that back together?’ So, here we are, seven years after our return. And we're finally able to bring that back because we both value it, and know what it means for our communities.”
The remounting of the series is timely, as both Soul Rep and Cara Mia are celebrating their 25th Anniversaries. The companies also recently co-founded the BIPOC Arts Coalition with Bishop Arts Theater Center and Teatro Dallas. The Coalition was created by the performance companies as a platform for, as Holloway said, “to be a voice for our fellow artists of color, to advocate for us to say: ‘We are here. We are still serving our community in the midst of this.’ Black and Brown communities have really been impacted the most in this. [The coalition] is a way for us to advocate for each other. And it's not just those four companies, but for our fellow artists in the community.”
So far, the BIPOC Arts Coalition has hosted community conversations surrounding race relations in Dallas, including this summer’s popular live broadcasts on the topic of defunding the police.
My Red Hand, My Black Hand was slated as the 2019 season closer for both companies, but due to the pandemic shutdowns, the project was reimagined. A story that follows a young Indigenous woman, describing the past, present, and future of her heritage — part Tlingit and Lakota, part “Black rural Virginian” — the play lends itself to an audio play well. McMillan-Herod shared, “Guinea came to us and said, ‘...this play is a poem and it lends itself to being an audio play.’ Both of our companies are still producing work [during the pandemic], and we felt this would be a beautiful piece to translate that way. It's allowed us to collaborate with musicians and composers. We’ve also had some consultants from the Indigenous community be part of the process.”
The audio play touts a diverse and experienced cast, including Dallasite and celebrated neo-soul singer, N’Dambi; rising star of the Dallas stage, J Davis-Jones; and Alaskan based actor, Allan Hayton. Holloway said, “With N’Dambi, it was fate that her schedule lined up with this show and she was able to come on board. We love her music; it is beautiful and poetic. To match her with an audio play is a perfect marriage. And then we have Alan Hayton, who is actually Tlingit, from Alaska. The character in the play is part Tlingit and part Lakota. And we have Jay Davis, who is part Native American and part Black. So, it's a perfect cast because they mirror these characters in this play.”
McMillan-Herod added, "We are ecstatic. It's a new space for all of us, but the process has been great.”
Soul Rep Theatre is clearly diverse in their expression, and a life blood of and for historically marginalized voices speaking their truth center stage. Nothing, it seems, can stop them, and their voice grows ever more powerful and influential.
My Red Hand, My Black Hand by Dael Orlandersmith is available to stream online October 15 – November 8, 2020. A series of Community Action Conversations will be curated to accompany the run of the play. Please visit www.soulrep.org or www.caramiatheatre.org for tickets, more information, and details.