This week’s episode of Frame of Mind brings television and theatre together with an eclectic selection of shorts all working with issues around race.
Dallas-based theatre companies were asked to develop a story for television by Bart Weiss, producer of Frame of Mind. Teatro Dallas, Soul Rep Theatre, Ochre House Theatre, and Dead White Zombies accepted the challenge to create their own unique stories dealing with race.
“They didn’t have to create theatre, they could just make something they felt was important to be done,” said Weiss.
The results range from a documentary on the legacy of Black theatre in Dallas to a surreal story about a soldier who is perceived to be a plant.
Here’s a look at what you’ll see.
The Monster In His Labyrinth
Teatro Dallas performs The Monster In His Labyrinth. That’s the English translation of the title of a book by Alfredo Cardona Pena. The book captures a series of interviews Pena conducted with Diego Rivera, drawing out Rivera’s thought-provoking if controversial thoughts on arts, culture, and politics.
Teatro Dallas co-founder, Cora Cardona, who is Pena’s daughter, adapted the book to create this performance.
The movie begins with a haunting dance scene. “Fridaaa,” a voice placidly calls out, as the lone dancer moves as though performing a ritual. Before Diego Rivera even enters the story, his culturally iconic counterpart takes center stage. It is an homage to Frida Kahlo’s influence on art and culture, but also a reminder of Kahlo’s influence on Rivera’s thinking and creativity.
The performance features many quotes and stories from Rivera and they are wildly captivating. The Monster In His Labyrinth captures all the facets of a controversial artist, whose work was larger than life and who often left others in awe or in terror.
“Everything about Diego Rivera was monstrous,” said Pena, played by Dallas actor Omar Padillo in the movie.
Weiss said the theater company successfully transitioned performing for video.
“They really understand how to set up a shot and how to convey the idea visually,” said Weiss.
In Spite of These Things: The Complicated Legacy of Black Theatre In Dallas
Soul Rep Theatre presents a comprehensive analysis of the legacy of Black theatre in Dallas. It features interviews by Black performers who came up through the Dallas theatre scene. From Charles Hillman, co-founder of Ghetto Arts Theatre, to renowned artist Vicki Meek, the documentary shows the many ways Black art assumes different forms in Dallas.
Black theatre in Dallas has experienced success and struggle. In Spite of These Things traces the divide between white and Black theatre in Dallas to the early 20th century. Two people are credited as influential in developing the Dallas theatre scene: Karl Hoblitzelle, who was white, and Sherman H. Dudley, who was black. Both established vaudeville theatres in Dallas. Hoblitzelle’s name is well recognized in the city, yet Dudley did not receive the same funding and wasn’t recognized for his contributions, during his life, or after.
Despite the inconsistencies in support, Black performers have always found ways to exist. Theatres like Jubilee Theatre in Ft. Worth and Soul Rep Theatre in Dallas continue the legacy of Black performance in North Texas. There’s a legacy of Black theatre in Dallas that could have been erased had this documentary not been made.
Soldier Plant is a visually stunning exploration of what it means to be human. It’s a story about a being that claims to be a WWII soldier but mysterious visitors perceive him to be a plant in need of care.
The Soldier is buried up to his waist in dry mud. His hands are bandaged as he feels the dirt around him. Where is he? Where’s the rest of his unit? A character by the name of The Gardener waters The Soldier, inspecting him like a plant. An intriguing dialogue emerges between The Gardener and The Soldier, in which The Soldier pleads with The Gardener to dig him out of the ground. The Gardener refuses, telling him that he has no legs but roots that are in the ground.
“You are a plant in the ground and I am your gardener,” said The Gardener.
Soldier Plant was directed by Courtney Ware. It was based on a play, Smile, Smile Again, written and directed by Justin Locklear and performed by Ochre House Theatre, Soldier Plant is the most visually striking movie in this episode of Frame of Mind. It’s also the boldest.
The movie not only explores metaphysical questions, like what determines The Soldier’s reality but it also deals with issues of race and history. The Soldier is a Black man desperately trying to convince a white man, and later a white woman, that he is a soldier and not a plant. These visitors’ disbelief and discounting of The Soldier echo historical racist disregard for the health of Black people in the U.S. All of these ideas regarding reality and race blur together into a fascinating short.
About Face is a 15-minute dizzying surreal short confronting whiteness. The theater company Dead White Zombies uses time travel as a way to explore the subconscious mind. A white character called The Traveler runs away from a group of people of color chasing after him. Another being, Appa, aids the group pursuing the Traveler by anticipating The Traveler’s every move.
Each cast member takes a turn confronting The Traveler. “Look at you. You’re scared,” said one character. “None of us are without guilt,” said another.
About Face interprets racial issues with an approach that emphasizes the psychological. It explores why people think of themselves as better than others, whether that’s race or another idea, and how the system we live in creates and nurtures those feelings. As The Traveler finds himself in a new time and place, his mindset is called to change. About Face was directed by Thomas Riccio.
EDITOR NOTE: This post was updated to clarify the origin of Soldier Plant.