By Abby Moore
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
Thaddaeus Edwards stands tall center-stage, his voice ringing out with a mixture of strength and sadness.
“Don’t run, don’t speak, don’t reach. No such thing as routine,” he says. Behind him, dancers react to his every enunciation with harsh, rhythmic movements.
“Lower my eyes, lower my voice,” he continues. “Life or death I have no choice.” The dancers stretch their arms toward the sky, then quickly restrain their bodies into a restricted pose as Edwards’ last words hang in the air.
These performers are cast members of the SpiritHouse Inc. production “Collective Sun: Reshape the Mo(u)rning“. SpiritHouse, a Durham-based cultural arts organization, seeks to inspire, connect and strengthen the local community through a number of cultural programs. Nia Wilson, executive director of SpiritHouse, says “Reshape the Mo(u)rning” is about telling the story of incarceration among African-Americans through the lens of mourning mothers, but also through their hope for a new morning.
“It’s about being able to look at a new day a certain way, but also about the fact that there’s all this mourning around the impact that prison and policing has on our communities,” Wilson says.
“There’s often moments of intense sadness when we lose family members, whether they’re incarcerated or endangering their lives.”
“Reshape the Mo(u)rning” is just one of the many portrayals of incarceration produced by the Collective Sun series. And although the series is based on a poem written by Director Ebony Golden, the cast agrees that “Reshape the Mo(u)rning” is a collaboration of all of their stories, as well as the stories of their community.
“I wouldn’t call myself an actor, but I would definitely say I’m a storyteller,” cast member Heather Lee says. “So I’d rather tell my own stories and help tell other people’s stories.”
Several different stories of African-American imprisonment are woven throughout the play. One portrayal depicts an African-American man’s struggle to remain calm and respectful when pulled over by cops for no apparent reason. Wilson says this portrayal was taken from a Northeast Central Durham community member’s actual experience.
“The riding story is about a man who lives in NECD,” Wilson says. “That experience of being rolled up on by police officers in his community since he’s been driving a car is very real.”
Cast member Omisade Burney-Scott says it’s easy for her to portray truth in Reshape the Mo(u)rning because she is the mother of two boys. But she also emphasizes the fact that the play is much bigger than her own story or the story of the Durham community.
“It’s Durham, and it’s real, and we love Durham so much. But this happens all over the place,” Burney-Scott says. “It doesn’t matter your class. It doesn’t matter your upbringing because that’s not what shows up. What shows up is that you’re a black kid. That’s what shows up.”
Wilson, affectionately called “Mama Nia”, is also a cast member of “Reshape the Mo(u)rning”. She says that the story is beyond bringing facts to life, but that it’s also a conversation for social change.
“It’s a conversation about what do we do and how do we shift things,” Wilson says. “That’s the conversation we’re trying to have, about what is it that this community needs to come together to shift what NECD looks like.”
The cast of “Collective Sun: Reshape the Mo(u)rning” performed the play on Friday, Feb. 24 at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham. For more information about the cast or the Collective Sun series click here.