As a world premiere and what Dread calls his “first indoor performance,” I had no real idea what to expect. When we entered the black box theater, there were four naked performers sitting on chairs (Clifford Owens, Lawrence Graham-Brown, Wilmer Wilson IV, Rocheford “Roc” Belizaire), voting booths along the back wall, and a podium with teleprompters. The room was well-lit and members of the audience found seats on the ground.
Once we were all somewhat settled, we heard high pitched squeals and barks followed by two security guards walking two German Shepherds into the main space. They quickly rounded up the performers to the side and Dread Scott walked up to the podium in full politician attire. He thus began reading the Dred Scott Decision as stage hands created a roped queue where members of the audience would line up. The dogs took their post on either side of the stage while the performers stood in front of the line, just in front of the voting booths where the audience was led.
I went up with the first batch of people, wanting to fully participate in the performance. What lay behind those curtains? What was it like to stand in line with everyone else and listen to Dread speak over the howling of the dogs? What was he saying and what was the significance of it in this setting? How were the performers engaging the audience? I shared a very intense moment with Clifford Owens. As I stood at the front of the line, waiting to enter the voting booth, he locked his eyes on mine. However uncomfortable I was, I stared back trying as best I could to understand what he was trying to convey to me. I believe he was trying to tell me, think of what it’s like in my position, my history.
I entered the booth, which had instructions to read the ballot, vote, place it in an envelope, and then put it in the ballot box. Upon doing that, you received a screen-print made by Dread just for this performance.
The ballot described the statistics of imprisonment of African-American men and how neither presidential candidate had that issue on their ticket this election. Then it asked – knowing that information – would we vote?
It was not an easy decision to make given the circumstances. The new knowledge from the reading of the Dred Scott Decision, the extremely loud barking dogs, and the performers you knew were part of these statistics. Would I vote? I never thought differently. Is Dread Scott trying to persuade me not to vote? But wait, I am a woman whose reproductive rights are on the ballot (without even discussing healthcare reform). So yes, I need to vote.
As I returned to my spot, I began to look upon the other audience members, those waiting in line not knowing what to expect, and those who were leaving the voting booths. I wondered if everyone else was feeling the same as I was – disenchanted with a country that has given me and my family so many opportunities.
All in all, the participatory nature of the piece lent itself very well while imparting knowledge of the Dred Scott Decision and its lasting effects, Dread Scott: Decision asked the audience to question their sense of patriotism and civic duty.