Newport News art gallery's original play on racial strife turns visitors into the main characters

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Posted at 4:17 AM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 15:48:43-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- The decor at the Contemporary Arts Network in Newport News looks like a gallery, but it is actually the scenery for a play with a purpose.

"To put people in other people's shoes, especially that of a young Black teen,” Hampton Boyer, the play’s co-director, said.

The play is called "Black Spirituals," a play on the strife and racism African Americans have endured through history. It is mixed with arts and the imagination of its creators, including Boyer.

"'Black Spirituals’ is a coming-of-age tale of four young, Black teens,” Boyer explained, "who get trapped into this world where they are tested and encounter villains and heroes."

The events from last year, such as the Black Lives Matter marches that took place after the death of George Floyd and the topic of racial inequality, served as inspiration for the play.

"We wanted to take people out of their preconceived notions and through the emotional rollercoaster that you experience through this theatrical,” Boyer said.

The play does have its actors, but the main characters are played by the visitors, which could be you.

“Black Spirituals” is not performed on a stage. Visitors go through each of these scenes - scenes that take place in the future and the past.

The play debuted earlier in February, and Boyer said the feedback is mixed.

"I've seen tears of joy, tears of reflection; I've seen laughter,” Boyer said. “I've seen quietness and stillness."

Visitors should plan to do a lot of walking and sign a waiver for health purposes, as well as follow COVID-19 guidelines.

“The only thing people should take away from this is more empathy,” Boyer said, “and thought-provoking on what is our life."

Tickets must be purchased ahead of time for one of the five performances on Saturday, which is the last day. Performances are estimated to run for 30 minutes.

More information on the play, such as tickets and times, can be found on the Contemporary Arts Network website.