Production born of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words seeks to spark conversation about racism | St. Louis Public Radio

Production born of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words seeks to spark conversation about racism

Dec 4, 2017

A theatrical performance coming to St. Louis on Friday ties the words of Martin Luther King Jr. to recent protests here, with the goal of getting people to talk about racism, gun violence and policing.

“The Drum Major Instinct” is based on a sermon King delivered in  February 1968, in which he encouraged followers to work not for individual glory, but collective justice. The New York company Theater of War Productions is staging the dramatic reading and choral event.

The piece has a dual focus, said artistic director Bryan Doerries.

“To celebrate King’s message, his sacrifice, his vision, while simultaneously interrogating, ‘Where are we now?’” Doerries said.

‘St. Louis is the heart and soul’

Theater of War produces work about public health and social issues. After then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in August 2014, Doerries collaborated with local composer Phil Woodmore and two dozen St. Louis vocalists to create “Antigone in Ferguson,” based on the ancient Greek tragedy.

In October 2016, the production debuted in St. Louis, starring Samira Wiley, who appears on the "Orange Is the New Black"  television show and "Mr. Robot's" Gloria Reuben. The St. Louis chorus has since traveled to New York, Baltimore and Greece to stage the play.

Bryan Doerries is artistic director of New York's Theater of War company.
Credit Provided | Theater of War

In April, Theater of War debuted “The Drum Major Instinct” in New York, then performed it this past October, along with an encore production of “Antigone in Ferguson” in St. Louis. The company staged the two sold-out shows one month after St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson found former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, who is white,  not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man.

The group is bringing “Drum Major” back to St. Louis before taking it on the road again, because "St. Louis is the heart and soul of these projects,” Doerries said.

Chorus member De-Andrea Blaylock-Johnson, a local social worker, said the production reminds her of how the racism King spoke against in the 1960s remains embedded in the nation's culture 50 years later.

“I’m kind of annoyed at how relevant the message still is,” Blaylock-Johnson said.

De-Andrea Blaylock-Johnson is a member of The Drum Major Instinct chorus and a co-facilitator of the post-show discussion.
Credit Provided | De-Andrea Blaylock-Johnson

Theater is just another way people can demonstrate against inequality, according to Blaylock-Johnson, who said, “Not everyone can lead a chant on the front line.”

“Someone has to be the attorney. Someone has to help those who may be arrested. Someone has to be the person who understands the law so that we can protest appropriately,” Blaylock-Johnson said. “And someone has to use their artwork or whatever talent that they have to spread the messages.”

The Friday night performance at Central Baptist Church on Washington Avenue will be followed by a panel discussion.

If you go:

‘The Drum Major Instinct’

When: 8-10 p.m., Friday, Dec. 8

Where: Central Baptist Church, 2842 Washington Ave., St. Louis

Admission: Free but seating is limited; reservations are recommended.

Follow Nancy on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL