Early summer of last year, Sidney Ellis of the Black Arts and Cultural Center commissioned Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative to complete a project that highlighted the voices of lesbian, bisexual and gay people of color within Kalamazoo. What became of that project was more than just a theater piece. Fire’s oral history leg, Voices, took the interviews of several area residents to create a dynamic experience involving history collection and performance called “Breadcrumbs: Journey to Authenticity.”
The project seeks to break stereotypes, address topics specific to the African American community concerning acceptance and expression of self, and confront homophobia with the community.
“Breadcrumbs” tells the stories of two lesbians, two gay men and a bisexual man and woman. The dialogue of the reader’s theater piece is compiled from oral history interviews conducted by Dr. Michelle Johnson, co-founder and executive director of Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative. Johnson sought out Kalamazoo area people of color who were willing to share their stories and turned the interviews over to Shawntai Brown, playwright and literary arts coach. Brown transcribed the interviews and intertwined the dialogue into a reader’s theater piece.
The characters of the piece are diverse and bring different aspects of the African American experience, especially for gay people, to the forefront in honest and vulnerable ways. The characters include a singer with strong roots in the church, a political activist, a poet and professor, just to name a few. But the professions or even sexuality of these characters becomes background information as we learn each person’s story of how they have come to be who they are today.
Johnson said, “I’m really excited about this project because I like hearing different voices and hearing and seeing the way people come to be their full self -- it opens up their lives in all kinds of ways.”
Last year’s performance of “Breadcrumbs” gained positive feedback. This year’s performance will be June 8 at the Epic Center. Audience members can expect to hear dialogue about sexuality, faith, family acceptance, love and marriage.
“I hope that people that see this project or participate in any way see all of the things, all of the contributions of the people who are bringing their stories forward; see the contributions that they have brought to the world and that they have done that being able to be their full selves,” Johnson said. “So to want those people back into the closet, or not ever having come out or the people of the future not coming out, means that the world would suffer and not have the full benefits of those people.”
CLICK ABOVE TO SEE AN EXCERPT FROM BREADCRUMBS