Category Archives: Theatre

19Feb/20

Jon-Sesrie Goff’s “After Sherman” Spotlights Preservation

Jon Sesrie Goff

The audience was quiet as their eyes were focused on a young Black man who narrated his family origins in South Carolina. His captivating voice segways into one of the most horrifying and inhuman events in recent years – the Emanuel Church shooting. It was emotional but the filmmaker/creative, Jon-Sesrie Goff, was able to orate the event passionately, beautifully and concluding with a peaceful ending. Taji Mag was able to catch up with the artist at the Pop-Up Magazine Winter Tour event in Washington, D.C. for an interview. 

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): What was your inspiration behind After Sherman?

Jon-Sesrie Goff (JSG):  It’s a feature-length documentary, that I started in 2014, that was supposed to be a visual survey of the Gullah Geechie corridor. This area existed from Southern North Carolina to Northern Florida. I was going for a very experimental, lyrical approach and it was not a personal film at all, but then I wanted to use it as an opportunity to talk to my family about our land and our Country, that was not used. I just wanted to use the camera to talk about the land. 

DDF: The short film version of After Sherman is what you are showing and narrating during the Pop-Up Magazine Tour, correct? 

JSG: Yes, the piece has evolved after the Charleston Church Shooting. I had a professor/filmmaker during grad school tell me that I didn’t have the luxury to make an experimental film about this subject matter because it required a strong narrative. For the following four years, I have been finding out through Pop-Up that I was able to hone my narrative voice without it feeling inauthentic. I worked with people who were like “Say this!” and “You deliver it so well!” but it wasn’t me speaking. 

With the shooting, I immediately went back because I didn’t want to be apart of the press mob. All my footage from the immediate aftermath is horrible because I was so nervous. There are moments where I was next to my mom and I didn’t want to film her during the emotional moment; I also wanted to protect others as well. So I took more photographs than video footage. A few weeks later I went back, did an oral history with church members, politicians, and people in the community, which is very different from the film I was making. Then I went back to do the ending shots of me standing amongst the country scenery and other visual treatments. 

DDF: You had a very emotional moment during your narration, how do you get through it every night? 

JSG: This night was emotional because my two cousins were here. They are also heirs to the properties that I mention in the film. My aunt, their mother, appears in the photographs in the film. This was the first time I had family members present at my show on this tour and that was really emotional. When I doing the piece, talking about it or working on it without family members around, I am able to desensitize myself. 

DDF: You are a well-rounded artist. How does this project differ from other forms of media that you use? 

JSG: Well, a personal documentary is one of the hardest things anyone can do. I apologize because I am a cinematographer and kept asking the cinematographers I was working with, why the film was not done yet because it takes a different type of care. I feel like, as a cinematographer and working in commercial spaces, I would be flown in the night before and out the next day, with that there’s no real attachment to the material. It’s just execution and less of myself present in it. When you put yourself out there like that, if you are a thoughtful person, you have to make careful decisions.

DDF: What were some of the reactions from some of your family and friends in Charleston after you showed them the film? 

JSG: After the shooting, there was a Sunday School convention scheduled to be at the church and they still had the convention. Two days after the shooting, kids from Emmanuel church were there. Every year it’s around the same time, so it’s like this weird moment of memorial services and then the convention. 

A year after the shooting, I went back and showed people my work in progress to the Sunday School convention. They were excited to see and pointing out people they know in the film and all the other stuff sort of fades away. I made this film so that people in the low country could appreciate how special and unique our culture is and how valuable our land is, that was it. People in the Emmanuel and Charleston Community have been very supportive of the project. 

DDF: How much did the documentary “Sherman’s March” influence your project? 

JSG: When I first started making it before the shooting. It was an inside joke because I love Sherman’s March, the first commercially successful documentary film. And it’s this guy going back to the south, tracing his family steps and there’s like one scene with black people. I was like “That’s really hard to do?” It’s hard to go down south and the only encounter you have the Black people are with some kids. I respect, Ross McElwee as a filmmaker immensely but I was thinking to myself, “I wanna do After Sherman and it’s going to be about all Black people.” I actually shot the opening sequences shot by shot but it may not make it into the film. 

I was happy to see the show and honored to interview Jon, especially because of his previous work with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Pop-Up Magazine 2020 Winter Tour is wrapping on February 22, 2020, but be on the lookout for the full feature film After Sherman by Jon-Sesrie Goff. Website.

07Dec/19

Barber Shop Chronicles Puts a Magnified Lens on the Diasporic Experience of Black Men

Barber Shop Chronicles

Inua Ellams. Portrait by Franklyn Rodgers.

Barber Shop Chronicles is one of the most ingenious plays I have watched in a long time. Finally, the Black man is not the villain, overly sexualized, the slave, or the savior for damaged Black women. He’s just human and is trying to figure this sh*t out like the rest of us! Originating in London and making it’s New York debut at BAM’s Harvey Theatre, this play is a real life look at the interpersonal relationships between men in our diasporic community. The barbershop is historically known to be the only place where our men have received any type of therapy. It’s where they discover who they are and how to treat one another and their community. Playwright/poet, Inua Ellams, and his all-male, 12-person cast do a phenomenal job of expressing true emotion and giving the rest of the world insight into what it’s like to be a melanated man. It plays in the humourous pool of sports, relationships, and race but then deep-dives into identity, fatherhood, generational trauma, and politics. 

Taking place in six different barber shops in London, Lagos, Johannesburg, Accra, Kampala, and Harare, Barber Shop Chronicles weaves us through the connections and similar experiences of these men despite their location. Each episode is sewn together with cultural music and dance that adds to the personality of the play. Every man is relatable on some level to someone you personally know or have come across. I attended the play with my partner, Will Focus. At the end he was in tears, which is a rare sight, so I couldn’t wait to hear his thoughts.

NayMarie (NM): Soooooo, what were your thoughts?
Will Focus (WF): The comedy was spot on. I noticed that they mixed several dialects from all over the diaspora. The fact that they were able to do it so seamlessly and still show that people were able to communicate in their respective dialects was awesome. I love that they drew the importance of speaking in a common tongue and having a dictionary that translates to Twi.

NM: What else?
WF: What I liked, on the political side, is the comparison between Winnie and Nelson [Mandela]. The fact that Winnie was the true hero then Nelson was brought in like how I view the Black pastors in America.
NM: As a pacifist?
WF: Yea, a pacifist. Someone who’s looking to put out that flame because it’s getting a little too hot for the European massives to handle. Or it’s a little too effective. What better way than to use her husband? I also liked the comparison between nigger and kaffir. What better way, specifically for the white audience who may not understand how significant that word is but can feel the weight when paralleled with the word nigger, to compare the use towards Africans. I like how they spoke of reclaiming our land and the one guy noted about how many of the Europeans had to die and it was retorted that African people died too. How they look out for the European but ignore the African lives lost. I love how it was reiterated that we took it BACK. It was ours to begin with and taken from us. I also like that they pointed out that the African slave trade was the biggest massacre, bigger than the Holocaust. I thought those dynamics, from a political perspective, from a social perspective, were excellent.

Barber Shop Chronicles

Tom Moutchi and David Webber. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

NM: And the tears?
WF: As it suits me personally, what brought me to tears was the Father/Son relationship dynamic. How the family is expressed through their lens in London and Africa also happens to Black boys and men in America. It shows that this is a consistent issue among us. It was funny how the drunk/disheveled one who most people would judge, had the most information. Early on, he told of how he allowed European children to call him kaffir for a pound, or twice for two pounds and it upset all of the men in the shop. Later, we discover he did it because he lived with his grandparents, after being abandoned by his father, and they were poor. It’s how he made money to survive. When he was confronted with reconciling with his father, the emotional overflow led to the truth of the situation and that brought me to tears in terms of the reality behind that. Then it was the phrase of “boys growing up to be their fathers” and me having two sons. In one scene, they said, “a child will show you how to raise them.”
NM: Word, that spoke to me.
WF: That hit a chord for me because the difference in the dynamics I have to take with my two sons is VAST, even with my daughter. They have ALL shown me that I have to approach them differently. Then it showed the older generation of men who are kind of detached from emotion with their children and don’t realize the damage they have done.
NM: That beating them is the solution…
WF: And leaving it at that without ever reconciling for the damage that they’ve done. And that’s broad and sweeping.

We chatted for a solid hour, but we want you to see the play for yourself! I would love for it to be made into a film and played on kweliTV to reach a wider audience. In the meantime, follow Inua Ellams and Barber Shop Chronicles to see where they’re playing next. It is worth all of the awards it has already received and then some. You feel it in your soul and are elated to see these conversations given priority. 

Website | Instagram

20Nov/19
Barber Shop Chronicles

Internationally Acclaimed Production, Barber Shop Chronicles, Makes its New York Debut at BAM

Following two sold-out runs at the National Theatre in London, a successful run at London’s Roundhouse, and a world tour, Nigerian-born playwright Inua Ellams’ acclaimed Barber Shop Chronicles makes its New York and BAM debut December 3—8. The sold-out sensation explores the diversity of Black male identity via the intimate community of the barbershop, where men across the African diaspora have gathered for generations to discuss the world and their lives. Filled with passion, humor, and honesty, the celebrated work is inspired by Ellams’ own experiences as an immigrant.

Directed by Bijan Sheibani, Barber Shop Chronicles follows the conversations and concerns of a group of African men as they interact in six different barbershops in London, Lagos, Johannesburg, Accra, Kampala, and Harare. The all-male, 12-person cast riffs on topics both personal and political—from sports to race relations to views about fatherhood, identity, immigration, and masculinity. Music and dance knit together the individual episodes in this fast-paced production. A mastery of humor, pace, and wit, the story takes place over a single day as characters, jokes, and plotlines traverse continents and cultures.

Barber Shop ChroniclesBarber Shop Chronicles is presented in its New York premiere at Next Wave 2019—the first season under Artistic Director David Binder, in which all artists are making BAM debuts. The season runs through December 2019 and includes theater, dance, music, film, site-specific, and multi-genre work across BAM’s venues and off-site, as well as Holiday programming.

Harvey Theater at BAM Strong (651 Fulton St)
Dec 3—7 at 7:30pm; Dec 7 at 2pm; Dec 8 at 3pm
Tickets start at $35

About the Artists
Born in Nigeria in 1984, Inua Ellams is an internationally touring poet, playwright, performer, graphic artist, and designer. He is an ambassador for the Ministry of Stories and has published four books of poetry: Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All StarsThirteen Fairy Negro TalesThe Wire-Headed Heathen, and #Afterhours. His first play, The 14th Tale, was awarded a Fringe First at the Edinburgh International Theatre Festival and his fourth, Barber Shop Chronicles, sold out its run at England’s National Theatre. He is currently touring An Evening with an Immigrant and recently premiered The Half God of Rainfall, a new play in verse at Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Kiln Theatre, London. In graphic art and design, online, and in print, he tries to mix the old with the new, juxtaposing texture and pigment with flat shades of color and vector images. Ellams lives and works from London, where he founded the Midnight Run, a nocturnal urban excursion. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Bijan Sheibani was artistic director of the Actors Touring Company (2007—10) and associate director of the National Theatre (2010–15), where he directed A Taste of HoneyEmil and the DetectivesRomeo and JulietDamned by DespairThe KitchenWar Horse (US tour), Greenland, and Our Class. His other theater credits include Dance Nation (Almeida); Circle Mirror Transformation (Home, Manchester); The Brothers Size and Eurydice (Young Vic/Actors Touring Company); Barber Shop Chronicles (National Theatre/Fuel/West Yorkshire Playhouse); and Romeo and Juliet (National Theatre). Opera credits include Nothing (Glyndebourne) and Tell Me the Truth About Love (Streetwise Opera).

Watch the Barber Shop Chronicles trailer here.

Barber Shop Chronicles                                                  
Fuel/National Theatre/Leeds Playhouse                     
By Inua Ellams
Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Design by Rae Smith
Lighting design by Jack Knowles
Movement direction by Aline David
Sound design by Gareth Fry
Casting direction by Louis Hammond CDG