Standing Out in a Drive-by World
ARTS & CULTURE | PERFORMING ARTS REVIEW November 12, 1992
Standing Out (In a Drive-by World)
By Lawrence Bommer
STANDING OUT (IN A DRIVE-BY WORLD)
at Free Street Theater
I wish you had seen the things I've seen. Maybe then you'd
understand why I stare, a glare on my face, almost as if a
Standing Out (In a Drive-by World) plays like a dispatch from the
front. But here the war is in Chicago's inner city. The murder of
Dantrell Davis proved--for the ten thousandth time--that this
conflict knows no civilians and takes no prisoners. Like The Me
Nobody Knows, done in the 70s, or the Black Ensemble's recent The
Key to Bein' Me or another Free Street Theater production, Project!,
Standing Out is raw drama forged by people who live it every day.
TeenStreet is made up of two neighborhood performance troupes,
one from the largely Latino and Asian Edgewater neighborhood and
the other from the Cabrini-Green area. (Supported by the Chicago
Initiative, TeenStreet is also a jobs-and-education program for kids
from 14 to 21.) Last summer the TeenStreet teams performed two
separate shows, Strugglers for a New World and The Kayotic Order-
TKO, in 40 communities, to a total audience of 2,000. Now they've
joined forces to present the hour-long Standing Out, its tightly knit
vignettes either written or improvised by TeenStreet members.
Uncensored, in-your-face, and spiked with song, the show
represents a small triumph of art over life--or imagination over
AIDS, drugs, gangs, joblessness, guns, and rats. As one actor puts it,
"Black male genocide rules our people."
The setting is a darkly lit shelter where a group of mainly black
teenagers gather to escape the gang-bangers and hold a clandestine
party. ("We can't go anywhere anymore," one sighs.) It takes time for
the kids to forget where they are--no party can disguise problems
like the "boogie man," the incarnation of their fears, who "kills
people a little at a time" and "steals your will . . . and heart." Others
share stories of shootings, like one called "hole in the booty," a
grotesquely comic anecdote of a man who got shot. He was in the
wrong place--but, they wonder, is there a right place? A bongo
drum plays in the background as the kids tentatively begin a dance
that's alternately frantic and subdued. The poetry is, too; a refrain
goes "Black . . . like the world outside; hard . . . like solidified lava;
loud . . . like the voices inside; cold . . . like the air underneath."
When all seems bleak at the end of the first act the cast get up and,
taking the audience with them, boogie out of the space to Free
Street's studio theater, a hip-hop playground for the now-free teens.
Leaping, crawling, miming, and whirling in free-form delirium and
happy anarchy, with their shadows dancing across the ceiling, each
testifies to a special view of heaven (not having to watch your back,
pigging out, etc). Written by Claudia Arias, Carla Dames, Atlas
Anderson, Ama Apua, and Chausse Manning, these monologues
seem as spontaneous as a diary.
The second half returns to a meaner reality (and to the main
theater), confronting peer and parental pressures, the constant,
dispiriting lack of encouragement from adults (whether authority
figures or neighbors), and the ethnic battle lines that divide and
conquer. One actor, James Jenkins, defiantly pretends it's still 1967
and he's marching with Dr. King one last time; for all the progress
made by the civil rights marchers, he implies, there was less fear
then than now of being shot. But "we are going to win now, so my
kids can just walk," he says. "Can just walk for the fun of it." Dantrell
Davis asked no more.
In the final scene the teens find solidarity in an affirmation of
multiculturalism and admit that ignorance--Puerto Rican kids
fighting African Americans fighting Asian immigrants--keeps people
from finding a common cause. The conclusion seems inescapable:
nobody is born to be thrown away.
As staged by Ron Bieganski (who also helped to develop the script,
with Betty Jackson), Standing Out offers fluid, persuasive urban
testimony, as valuable for what it doesn't say but makes you feel as
for what it does. When you read the bios of these 15 young actors,
you sense how much beyond their lives so far their ambitions will
take them. As Atlas Anderson writes, "Free Street Theater has
brought together two summer groups to show that teenagers from
the worst places can make a difference in what's going on in the
world and around us in the community."