Devised cabaret “It Starts With…” sparks a revolution: A blend of poetry, music, & passion

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"One of the more serious acts discussed the issues of racism and the historical oppression of black people in the United States." - Staff Writer / Sarah Shockey.

From Nov. 16 to 18, an ensemble from the Department of Theatre & Dance performed a devised Cabaret called “It Starts With…” in Room 221 of the Chamberlain Student Center. Drawing inspiration from the 1971 free verse poem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Gil-Scott Heron and the song La Vie Bohème from the musical “Rent”, the group came together to build the story from scratch. Featuring works of poetry from poets Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Emily Dickinson as well as songs from artists Green Day, Édith Piaf, and Billie Holiday, the ensemble created a passionate performance about justice, perseverance, and kickstarting a progressive movement.

“This spring we [the Theatre Department] are doing “Rent” which has a song called “La Vie Bohème” that has different references to “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” said Director Christopher Roche, “So, all the source material came from what was in that song and then the students do the research, and then we all kind of decide how we’re going to graft it together.”

The ensemble, dressed in dark tops and camouflage pants, was set in a simple, run-down town which was shown in the photos projected behind them. Standing in between two cathedral-style stained glass windows, the performers began shouting at the audience about a revolution. Emphasizing that people cannot just stand by and hope for change, loud chants of “You will not be able to stay home brother” and “The revolution will not be televised” rang out.

One of the more serious acts discussed the issues of racism and the historical oppression of black people in the United States. As the ensemble lay on the ground, Actress Eliazah-imari Dixon stood up and began quoting lines from singer Sam Cooke’s song “A Change Is Gonna Come” while she helped pick her castmates up, an act of kindness that was reciprocated until everyone was standing. As they all stood in a line and held hands, questions were thrown out asking, “Who will survive in America?” before the show transitioned into reciting the poem “Caged Bird” by Angelou, ending the set with the concluding line of the final sonnet, “For the caged bird sings of freedom.” 

Roche explains that while the show features many serious bits, as well as more lighthearted comedic sets including an erotic dance number to The Orion Experience’s song “Cult of Dionysus” and throwing feathers and handing out roses to Etta James’ “Sunday Kind of Love”, “It Starts With…” attempts to acknowledge the struggles of everyday people. While comedy can be a temporary pivot to the problems that plague society, Roche says it’s still important to return to normalcy and acknowledge the oppression that happens today.

“The struggle is real and how we exist in the struggle is we find moments to click back into reality. But we also take moments of levity when we can, but then we have to snap back to reality and deal with what’s happening,” said Roche.

As a bucket drum was played, the performance ended with the recurring chants to the audience, repeating not only that “the revolution will not be televised” and cannot be watched retrospectively, but is happening right now, ending with the final line “The revolution will be live.”

Reiterating the importance of the fight, Actress Joelle Darragh says the show aims to encourage others to fight for what they believe in.

“If you feel something with your heart, like just go for it, like don’t let anyone hold you back,” said Darragh.

Actress Ma’Sonia McPherson explains that a revolution will not be nationally broadcasted, but a silent movement seeking reform. A simple performance accompanied by only piano and drums, “It Starts With…” emphasizes that change will not simply be achieved with hope but with action. 

“Ultimately, any change that happens starts with yourself,” said McPherson. “So, it’s important to remember that there’s never too much introspection, self-awareness, and self-reflection, so any change that you wish to see externally happens within yourself.”

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