What to Send Up When It Goes Down Summary – Spoilers Below
The play begins in the lobby or whatever space where folx are waiting outside of the playing space. A cast member will make an announcement welcoming everyone and explaining the reasons behind the creation of the piece. It is clearly stated that this play is first and foremost for black people. Non-black folx are welcome if they are prepared to honor this through their respectful, conscientious presence. As everyone enters the playing space they are offered a black ribbon to pin on their clothing. The black ribbon symbolizes grief over the lives lost to racialized violence. Everyone is instructed to form a circle, those who cannot stand for long periods of time may request a chair, and the play continues once everyone is settled. Those who do not wish to participate may step out of the circle at any point as long as they don’t disrupt those participating in any way.
Everyone is first asked to share their names. A cast member then shares the name of a person recently killed by racialized violence. The group is asked to speak the name of this person the number years this person lived. The group is asked to think about a time if they heard someone say something anti-black. Those who have heard someone say something anti-black are then asked to step into the center of the circle. The cast member leading this portion then asks those who have ever seen someone denied something because they are black to once again step into the center of the circle. The exercise continues with the following groups asked to step forward; those who have ever felt that they themselves been denied something because they are black, those who have been physically threated or assaulted and believe it was because they are black, those who have ever seen someone be threatened or actually attacked by an officer of the law with some kind of weapon and believe they would have been treated this way, and those if you have been attacked by an officer of the law and feel that being black had something to with it. At the beginning of this, the cast member asks everyone present to have an awareness about who has stepped forward and who hasn’t. After the final question the cast member asks everyone to share one word that describes how they felt in that moment. After allowing everyone to sit with that for a moment, the cast member once again asks everyone to share one word. But this time the word describes how everyone would like to feel in this moment. The group is then asked to write down some kind words they’d like to share with a black person living in an anti-black society in a moment of quiet reflection. Once everyone is finished writing they are presented with two receptacles for the notes to be placed in, one for black people and one for everyone else. Once everyone is finished the cast member leads everyone in a group yell and three collective breaths. Another cast member then teaches everyone a song that they are encouraged to think of as fuel to launch into the next part of the ritual. Everyone sings together as the audience finds their way to seats.
Once the audience is seated the cast members perform a series of vignettes depicting the absurdities and horrors of anti-blackness in our society in three movements.
A cast member starts them off by stating that we are always living the day after or the day before “it” has gone down because “it” never stops happening. “It” being an act of racialized violence. Because of this reality, the next section of the ritual will not “mince words” or allow for “delicate sensibilities or convention.”
The first vignette depicts the Made, Man, and Miss. They narrate their own actions. When Miss, a wealthy white woman, enters Man becomes driver and attempts to tend to Miss’s every need because if he is not given a purpose he will be “sucked into the margins” (offstage). Miss constantly by giving him demeaning tasks while simultaneously denying that she needs him stating that her “hands are clean.” All the while, Made has been sharpening a knife. When asked by Miss what she’s doing she states she is doing other household chores. Miss maintains that she was unsettled by Made’s tone and the look in her eyes and goes to confront her “as her boss but not a racist.” Made is now loading a bow and arrow as she once again maintains that she is doing other household chores when questioned by Miss. Miss continues to pepper her with questions. Miss is shocked to learn that Made has no children. Made dismisses Miss’s questions maintaining that she must continue with laundry. Miss is troubled by this interaction and she tells Man that she will let Made go. When Miss approaches a third time Made is now oiling a machete. Made claims she is sweeping. Miss once again assumes Made has children and this time Made responds by slapping and punching Miss but nothing affects her. Made then kisses Miss and Miss finally reacts as if she has been murdered. She fires Made with her “dying breath.”
A monologue discussing the idea of trying to love others while constantly being met and surrounded by racism is interspersed throughout the scenes, during which the performer drops red yarn on the ground throughout the playing space.
Two actors discuss and react to a story in which one performer’s white man co-worker said the phrase “I don’t see color” in response to being called out on his racism. The performer recounting the story explains that instead of responding verbally she removed his mouth from his face.
Two other actors discuss how one of them has a death wish because of the way he interacts with white people. The actor in question denies these accusations stating “they fuck with me I respond in kind.” The first actor sites the brazen way he walks down the street as particularly dangerous. The first actor reiterates that “you and white people are not pals.”
Another actor speaks about how black people don’t “get to be foolish.”
More actors enter holding bowls of shredded white paper. They participate in a call and response that discusses the feeling that people call you black when they’re saying something bad about you. At the end of this they drop the shredded paper on the ground.
The two actors continue their conversation of one actor’s brazen behavior. This time the open way he laughs is critiqued. He reveals he has come up with a plan to “play possum,” because if he already looks dead he won’t be killed. He becomes increasingly less calm as he realizes his disguise is painful and begins to feel real.
Two other actors continue their discussion of the co-worker’s removed mouth. The actor reveals she put his mouth in her purse and left, as her co-workers looked on in horror. She says it looks like a little fish flopping around. She quickly shows the other actor. The other actor tells her they will come after her. She responds that she’s tired.
Much of the action and the general premise of each vignette reoccurs. Only this time the action happens a bit more quickly, the monologues and scenes are more concise, and the performances intensify.
This time Made is loading bullets into a revolver, cleaning the chamber of a machine gun, and loading a rocket launcher each time Miss interrogates her. One actor describes that he does the same thing he does with his white friends as he does with anyone else except for the moment when one his white friends accidently eats a big of his finger and he has to tell them. If they don’t hear them he usually eats a little of himself so they don’t feel embarrassed. This time the call and response revolves around the idea that so many black people gathered together, angry, yelling, and in public will get them in trouble. They drop more shredded paper. One actor sense someone following them and tries to escape. He doesn’t know what they want from him.
The action occurs even more quickly, intensely, and concisely. The performers are operating closer to breakneck speed and every interaction and statement is heightened.
This time Miss cannot keep the names of all the actors straight and continues to call MADE by other actor’s names. This is the new impetus for Made to slap Miss. This time Miss feels the slap. She tries to apologize on behalf of her entire race before she dies once again. One actor shares a story of a man who ate himself all the way down to just a mouth and throat when his white friend could never hear him when he said “you’re eating me.” The man being pursed falls dead. Made finally speaks about the children she has lost to racialized violence.
For the last section of this movement the company continuously circles the pursed man’s body. This section escalates into a group yell. Afterword, they stand in tight circle around his body. They each take a handful of shredded paper and recite a statement in which they state their name and send something up in the name of someone lost to racialized violence. They speak the names of the people they are honoring and slowly let the shredded paper fall from their hands onto the man’s body. They are quiet for a full minute to honor the dead then they help the actor in the center of the circle to his feet. They participate in another call and response and finally address the audience together and send it up. It is a rigorous movement to rid the body and spirit of “things that need ridding.” They sing once more and allow each actor to take a turn dancing in the center of the circle. They then share a few notes that the audience wrote in the beginning of the ritual to offer to black people. The audience repeats them. The audience is lead in three final collective breaths as they are asked to think about everything they’ve seen, heard, and experienced this evening. The actors think the audience for being here with them.
At this time the black folx who are present are invited to stay in the space and the non-black folx are invited to head out to the lobby where they are read a note from the playwright. Inside the space the black folx are invited to participate in the final portion of the ritual, similar to the first portion of the piece, that has been created specifically for black folx to experience in a space that is just for black folx.