"A Walk Into Slavery" Premieres at the Billie Holiday Theatre at RestorationArt

Apr 26, 2019

"A Walk Into Slavery" runs from April 30 to May 4 at the Billie Holiday Theatre at RestorationArt in Brooklyn
Credit The Billie Holiday Theatre

The World Premiere of A Walk Into Slavery, based on Hollis King's recent visit to Africa, was conceived and directed by Dr. Indira Etwaroo, the Executive Director of the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn.  

A Walk Into Slavery is a multi-media meditation about reconnecting with one's ancestor and redefining one's purpose. 

Two of the stars of the show, award-winning international designer and photographer and former Verve Records V.P. and Creative Director, Hollis King and award-winning poet, playwright, novelist, essayist and recording artist Carl Hancock Rux, sat down with WBGO News Director Doug Doyle to talk about their roles in the production.

While visiting Africa last year, Hollis King encountered the slave dungeons of West Ghana — the final stop for many before their Transatlantic journey into slavery in the Americas.  After speaking with Dr. Etwaroo, he was convinced his experience needed to be told to audiences, and specifically at "The Billie."

"I said no (at first). I wrote this for myself.  I didn't think I was going to share any of the intimate details with others, but sometimes the specific story can be universal to many other people, so there might be some good in sharing the story with others.  So I capitulated and here I am."

King presents an oral history of his adventure that he'd put off for a lifetime.  Performing on stage was new for him.

"Dr. Indira Etwaroo who is producing and directing this show, has created this unique world for us to live in.  So at the center sits this contained box where I tell the story.  On the two sides, on the outsides, there's a  "Gatherer" who gathers people and takes them from one world to the other.  On the other side is "Mother Africa" who is a singer, all-seeing, all-knowing, omnipotent person that we never quite, it's not one person, it's a representation of the world."

The three stars of "A Walk Into Slavery"
Credit The Billie Holiday Theatre

Carl Hancock Rux reads his newly created poetry as "The Gatherer" while Marcelle Davies-Lashley provides the live vocals.  Hancock Rux says his character is interesting.

"He's endowed with historical memory even beyond the memory that's been recorded as well as colonial memory, transatlantic memory.  When he speaks, the character I play, it is quite poetic.  He's sees into the future, he sees into the past, he understands the future.  All of that I wrote."

What kind of reaction does Carl Hancock Rux want the audience to have after seeing A Walk Into Slavery?

"One of the things I'd like for them to talk about, which I think isn't talked enough about, is the psychosocial effects that slavery has had on all of us.  When I say all of us, I'm speaking about an inclusive society, black,white, yellow, blue, everybody who's here, especially, however, on people of African descent, I would like them to think about what it means to live in a country where chattel slavery was real and where human ownership was real and not so distant....I'd like people to think about that word "freedom".  Are you free? Are we free now? How do you demand your freedom?"

Hollis King and Carl Hancock Rux on stage after a chat with WBGO's Doug Doyle
Credit Doug Doyle for WBGO

The performance is enhanced with photographs, pencil sketches, journal entries, videotaped interviews, and live music, you learn from A Walk Into Slavery that in order to move forward one must go back.  Hollis King says the audience will see his reaction to his trip, some of the thoughts it triggered and some of the surprising places he went.

"Lighting, projection, magic. We're going to take you into a world that's different, going to surprise you and it's going to being a wonderful creative synergy that take you to a place that will make you think."

"A Walk Into Slavery" runs at the Billie Holiday Theatre at RestorationArt in Brookly from October 30 through May 4.

Click above to hear the entire conversation with Hollis King and Carl Hancock Rux, who are both huge jazz jazz fans.