The talents of three of Miami's creative forces have joined together to create the new play, "I Elect: Power Every Four Years," which is aimed at reenergizing any of those dispirited by recent events. The message? You can create change, but only if you vote.
The play, "I Elect: Power Every Four Years" stars Carey Brianna Hart, with a script by playwright Bill Spring and direction from Ricky J. Martinez, who created it in the midst of the pandemic.
In this one-woman play, a monologue performed by Hart, shepherds the character, Bella, through an emotional journey that takes her from the depths of despair and hopelessness by sending her mind on a journey. The end result is a revelation that moves her to action.
The play also takes on women's rights and racism themes, but its focal point on the importance of voting is resonated with Hart. She recalled a memory from 1988, when she was a theater student in Chicago, and let a presidential election slip by without casting a ballot.
"I went home to Miami and I casually mentioned at the dinner table that I hadn't voted and I got the lecture of my life from my mother. My mom and her friends had fought and gotten dogs sicced on them when they were helping people register to vote, so I never forgot the shaming I got," Hart says.
Hart's mother activism dated back to when she was a college student, and one day, walking across her college campus in Tallahassee, she encountered another group of students heading to Woolworth's to stage a lunch counter sit-in. It was one of the pivotal events of the 1960s Civil Rights struggle. Her mother was also arrested and jailed in New York City, when she traveled to protest the all-white delegation that then-segregated Florida had dispatched to the 1964 World's Fair.
Despite that one-time college slip-up, Hart is such a passionate voter that this year, she says, "one organization sent me a chart of houses in my neighborhood where people lived who had missed the last election. I don't know why they sent it, maybe they wanted me to go to their houses and tell them to vote," she said, with a laugh.
Hart is a familiar face to South Florida theater-goers. She has performed in productions at African American Performing Arts Community Theatre, AreaStage, GableStage, M Ensemble Theatre Company, Mad Cat New Theatre, Thinking Cap Theatre, the Vinnette Carroll Theatre and the Women's Theatre Project, among many others. She also wrote "Dust Tracks," a one woman show about Florida-native Zora Neale Hurston, a writer, anthropologist and filmmaker whose works portrayed racial struggles in the early 1900s.
For Spring, sitting down to write, while everyone else was locked down, was not a choice, but a compulsion. "For myself, as an artist, the best thing I can do about all of this is to create work. That is what I do when I am cornered and don't know what else to do," he says.
Bella's character had its genesis at another time when Spring also felt compelled to transform his reaction to events into words, which was in 2018, when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, killing 17 students and staff members.
The pandemic inspired Spring to take that work and turn it into a play that would reflect today. "The monologue was always about a woman who had isolated herself in her own home – a situation further amplified by our current experiences, the quarantine and the pandemic," Spring said.
Spring is an actor and playwright, whose work has been featured nationally at various festivals including FUSE: the New York Celebration of Queer Culture at HERE Arts Center, and the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and whose autobiographical works include "Miss Miss Vanilla & the Hustler," "The Prehistoric Zip Code of Water," "The House," "Skin Deep", "Dream of the Firemen," and "Kmart and Spirituality.
For Martinez, directing the play proved to be, "from start to finish, a wellspring during this heavy year," he says.
Martinez is an award-winning director and playwright who has been invited to direct the Kennedy Center's American College Theater Festival's the MFA Playwrights' Workshop; Stanford University 's National Center for New Plays; James Madison University and the Forbes Center; the Words A-fire festival in New Mexico; and other organizations across the country.
The rehearsals for the theater-on-film was done over Zoom, but the actual shooting occurred over the span of two weeks, with location assistance from Locust Projects in Miami. Rounding out the "I Elect" team was Jose Lima, producer and Denisse Perez, photography director.
"Time was of the essence, with the election looming. In a two-week period, we conducted 18 hours of rehearsals (three hours a night) via Zoom. Our tech-rehearsal quickly followed these two weeks, and we filmed it all in one day," says Spring.
As for Hart, she is hoping that Bella's story will motivate anyone who thinks their vote doesn't matter to gather themselves up and head to the polls.
"Bella is a woman at rock bottom, thinking she has nothing and then she realizes that this isn't true. She realizes that you still have a choice, you have things in your life that will inspire you, but it's up to you to find that in yourself."
"I ELECT: Power Every Four Years" premieres Saturday, Oct. 17 as a free live-stream on YouTube Live! from 7 to 7:30 p.m. The play will remain available through Election day Nov. 3 and beyond. Viewing is free, but viewers will be encouraged to donate to Engage Miami, a nonprofit organization that encourages young people to vote.