police brutality

Resonating: Arts groups respond to race crisis

In an open letter organized by Resonance Ensemble, more than 1,000 individuals and 100 groups lend voice to demands for racial justice

EDITORS’ NOTE: Since the slaying in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an African American man, by a white police officer on May 25 protests have sprung up across the nation, including Portland and many other towns and cities in Oregon. Portland artists and cultural groups have responded strongly, raising their voices against racial injustice and inequity. In Portland, more than 1,000 individuals and 100 cultural organizations have put their signatures to the open letter below, organized by the choral group Resonance Ensemble and addressed to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, and other state and local officials. Most but not all of the signatories are from Portland’s musical community.

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Tributes to George Floyd outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died after a police officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Photo: Vasanthtcs / Wikimedia Commons

An Open Letter from Resonance Ensemble and the Portland Arts Community

Dear Governor Brown, Mayor Wheeler, and state and local government officials:

Millions of people have taken to the streets around the country to protest the killing of George Floyd by a police officer who pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds as he lay pinned on the ground in handcuffs. Mr. Floyd’s pleas for help — repeating that he couldn’t breathe — were ignored.

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Can we all get along? Rodney King’s story for our times

Actor/playwright Roger Guenveur Smith talks about his show about the man whose videotaped 1991 beating shifted the story of race and police brutality in America

Artists Repertory Theatre is hosting Roger Guenveur Smith’s one-man play Rodney King, about the “first reality TV star” whose beating by police in 1991 was captured on videotape and led to a public outage that echoes down to the age of cell phone videos and the ongoing national controversy over policing and racial violence. The Artists Rep performances April 21-23 will be Smith’s last onstage before the release on April 28 of Spike Lee’s film version on HBO.

Rodney King is one of several culturally or politically provocative pieces to hit Portland stages since last November’s national elections, heralding an increased activism in the theater.

– Triangle Productions is opening Robert Schenkkan’s Building the Wall on Thursday, April 20, as part of a “rolling world premiere” at theaters across the country. The author of The Kentucky Cycle and the Lyndon B. Johnson plays All the Way and The Great Society that premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival before moving on to acclaim on Broadway began writing Building the Wall “in a white hot fury” last October as the presidential race was tightening up. Lee Williams has written an excellent interview with Shenkkan for The Oregonian.

– Last weekend, partly in response to a wave of anti-immigration policies, Portland Story Theater presented two evenings in its Urban Tellers series of short personal stories by immigrants from Argentina, Somalia, Iran, Indonesia, Mexico, and Denmark, and has plans for a similar program in the fall.

– And PassinArt: A Theatre Company has just concluded its run of Marcus Gardley’s moving Gospel of Lovingkindness, a play that probes the causes of a random murder in the black community and the lives it tears apart. Director Jerry Foster says he’d like to have the show tour in schools.

Smith, the author and performer of Rodney King, agreed to answer a few questions from ArtsWatch via email about his play, his career, and the culture that’s helped shape both. Here’s what he has to say:

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Roger Guenveur Smith as Rodney King. Photo: Patti McGuire

Bob Hicks: People remember the car chase and the brutal beatings and the famous quote, “Can we all get along?” I’m not sure how many also remember that the police were mostly acquitted by an almost-all-white jury in Simi Valley, or that the whole thing was a key factor in the pressure leading up to the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Does Rodney King focus on that series of events, or does it also follow King’s life in the years after?

Roger Guenveur Smith: Rodney King is an intimate meditation on a life lived and lost, revealing a boy and a man and a man in a myth.
 The high speed chase of March 1991 comes to an abrupt halt in June 2012. Along the way there is a beating, and a trial, and a riot, the immense weight of which takes Mr. King to the bottom of his backyard swimming pool.

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