Play Inspired by Collective Courage Premiering in May

 

“[S]eeking modernity the Negro forsakes what has been gained via cooperation. It’s been our culture since we arrived here, likely inherited from Africa. Slaves pooled money they’d scraped together to buy each other out of slavery. Networks of Underground Railroad. 1700s, colored mutual aid societies. Anyone tells you cooperatives are foreign to Negroes, ask their credentials. Any credentials they show, tear them up. They’re worthless, and that person is a menace.”

– W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Conference
 
Black Conference is inspired by the book “Collective Courage” by Dr. Jessica Gordon-Nembhard (PSU Press, 2014), which chronicles African American cooperative business ownership and its place in the movements for Black civil rights and economic equality. Falconworks Theater Company’s artistic director, Reg Flowers, first encountered the book and Ms. Gordon-Nembhard at a cooperative conference in 2014. Reg was working as a cooperative developer, building relationships across a national network, and supporting institutional and grassroots efforts. It became remarkably apparent that bringing solidarity economics together with the can-do spirit of Falconworks Theater Company would be a transformative combination to uplift both.
 
The process began with a conversation with Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, who generously offered insights about prominent figures who were most essential and engaging. These pillars of history would not require much “artistry” to have an impact. Great minds like W.E.B. Du Bois, Ella Baker, George Schuyler—could speak for themselves. Falconworks Theater Company’s ‘The Sandy Monologues’, where Hurricane Sandy survivor interviews were presented without embellished, had already demonstrated the power of the naked word onstage. Setting the play at a conference creates potential for these characters and the audience to interact in unexpected ways connecting past and present and imagining a future.
 
Employing the values preached in and demonstrated by the history inspiring the play, a group of actors was invited to be part of an experiment in worker-ownership, developing a touring collective, and an opportunity to build something financially and artistically sustaining. The company received a rigorous week-long training in cooperative economics from The Community Development Project introducing cooperative legal structures; Jessica Gordon-Nembhard sharing African American cooperative history; and The New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives Training Collective presenting cooperative finance. Actors also attended a Producing Touring Productions workshop offered by the Alliance of Resident Theaters – New York.
 
The play also features cameos from existing cooperative business owners and the agencies that support them, and at least one City Council member! The project received sponsorship from CEANYC, The Center for Family Life, The Community Development ProjectEqual ExchangeICA Group, City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, and The NYC Network of Worker Cooperatives. The plays underlying motive is to both educate and activate audiences to engage in economic activities that support their own communities. Audiences will leave with an understanding of what cooperatives are and take with them a blueprint to use in their own collective action if so inspired.
 
Black Conference runs Thursday, May 24 through Monday, May 28, 2018. Tickets are $20 with group rates available. Call (718)395-3218 for group information. Visit https://falconworks.com.
 

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