Yes, it did. In 1966 Cleveland. The Hough riots. The riots culminated as a result of numerous reasons. Mostly found in the social conditions that existed in the ghettos of Cleveland. And also found in a city that didn’t seem to have the time or wherewithal to care enough to try to reach out and empower a broken community. A community that wanted to be better, but was so frustrated over years of being beat down.
“the spark is all you need”
That spark was ignited on July 18, 1966, when someone posted a sign outside the 79’s bar, situated on the southeast corner of East 79th Street and Hough Avenue. It read, “No Water for Niggers”
An argument ensued for several reasons, and before the night was over, Joyce Arnett, a black 36-year-old mother of 3, was shot dead when she called from a window, trying to get permission to go home and check on her children.
The next day, Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes activated 1,600 local members of the National Guard to keep order. That didn’t save Percy Giles, a black 38-year-old divorced father of two. he was shot and killed on his way to help a friend protect his business. On the third night, five people were wounded, including a woman and her two children. On the fourth night, Sam Winchester, a 54-year-old black man was killed while walking to a bus stop. On the fifth night, a trio of white men shot 29-year-old Benoris Toney, a black man sitting in his car in a nearby Euclid Avenue lumber yard. On the sixth and final day, rain helped settle the outbursts, as if the universe couldn’t handle it anymore, and cried for the pain and misery that was visceral for every human being involved. There were claims that the riots were too organized and that a Communist influence must be involved. But it didn’t matter as to the details. There is an argument that the city has never fully recovered.
Years later, enter the fierce and inventive Pandora Robertson, creator and director of Incendiaries, and also Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Ohio City Theatre Project. As she describes her artistic being, she states “I believe my job as an artist is to tackle difficult topics and inspire others to venture out into the unknown.” I would think that in this case, the unknown could also be a question of whether we are a bit racist and don’t want to admit it. What Robertson has done here in this expanded piece, which began as a segment in the Cleveland Public Theatre production of Fire on the Water, a series of short plays inspired by or connected to the burning of the Cuyahoga River, is present the events of the Hough Riots in full detail, dramatically trimmed to 50 minutes.
In an athletic performance art demonstration of determined force, 7 actors, fierce activists, take the stage and commence telling the tale of a disturbing time in Cleveland history. And when you add in the raw emotional feelings around the killing of Tamir Rice, you slowly realize that the deep-rooted fears from 1966 are still alive and well. The storytellers are Brittni Shambaugh Addison, Wesley Allen, Ashley Aquilla, Laprise Johnson, Daniel McNamara, Randi Renee and Chris Walker. They tell the story on a bare set, except for folding chairs and a large table. The physically demanding pace asks for the actors to constantly use the chairs and table to create cars, home, businesses and various locations to provide the story a setting and propel the story forward. It is an impressive artistic physical display.
Throughout the piece, there is a cacophony of sound mirroring the riotous atmosphere of the riots. This adds an underlying disturbance throughout the play. But the strongest moments come when the play and sound slow down and subside to reveal the painful reality that must be communicated. These more distinct sections of the play are powerful and serve the purpose to arouse a need to understand what happened, and recover from what did happen to so many. As the play moves forward and continues to grow, I hope that even more sections are allowed to be more exposed and that some of the table physicality is geared more towards a natural movement than just movement. But those distracting moments are few. The piece has a stronger base than Bernie Sanders at the point. The hardest and the best solution to what happened at the Hough Riots is education. It will be a never-ending task. But, it will always be important to remind people …………………..
THE CREATIVE PRODUCTION TEAM INCLUDES:
Pandora Robertson- Conceiver and Director (gifted storytelling and casting, keep on pushing us to look inside and outside)
Benjamin Gantose- Lighting Designer (created a deeply moving palate of light that infused the story telling with a piercing starkness)
Darryl Dickenson and Patrick Stoops- Sound Designers ( nice work on the edgy feel of the piece)
Inda Blatch-Geib- Costume Designer (every performer seemed at ease and comfortable in their design, which enables them to engage more viscerally)
Sherrie Tolliver- Dramaturg (i have a feeling you are very smart)
Ian Petroni- Scenic Designer (a simple design that encompassed a disturbing reality)
Lauren Sturdivant- Stage Manager ( nicely called show, which added tremendous value)
Lauren Garson- Production Manager (pulled together the elements with style)
$12-$30 General Admission
Cleveland Public Theatre (Gordon Square Theatre)
6415 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44102