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The Harlem Movement, RE-defined

The first time I went to Harlem was when I was about ten years old with my family. It was electric. Being from Alabama, I felt like I had been transported into another world, a world with bold colors, sweet smells that lingered from local restaurants, church houses on building stoops, groups of men philosophizing around corner stores, and women discussing the latest in the hair salon. The spirit was, and still is, huge.

When I moved to New York, I found my way back to Harlem. Or, it found me.

 

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I was so in awe of the movement of work happening uptown with theater collectives and production companies, many that you have heard from this week and more, that I started to put less of my focus on auditioning and trying to please my agency, and more of my time getting to know the artists that were creating this genesis of work. It was electric, that same flow I remember as a child.

I remember going to see a piece that The Movement Theatre Company did and I had an amazing time and I stayed afterward to meet them. Jonathan and Eric welcomed me with open arms and that started the beginnings of a community I hold very dear. To be warmly welcomed by someone that was the founder of an organization, from my experience in New York theater, was rare. I always felt like I had to be a super special somebody in order to enter the door or even approach someone to have a conversation about my passions and thoughts about the arts. I found a space in Harlem that allows me to truly exercise my values in theater—respectively seeing every artist, designer, technician, and writer as the same being, no hierarchy allowed!! I found a space in Harlem that lets me challenge what I feel art should be. I found a group of beings that I can truly be myself around and trust. That is a beautiful thing.

In the next five years, I see Harlem’s theater movement continuing to thrive and becoming international. Harlem is already a hub for many cultures. I love walking down the street seeing a group of Nigerian men talking politics and on the next block a group of Jamaican men are having the exact same conversation. I see us building an organizational structure that comes from our minds and our community and our work, rather than from external pressures and expectations. I see downtown coming uptown. I see uptown downtown. I see artists taking the spirit of Harlem back to their hometowns and countries spreading the message of supportive community, self-love, and good art.

 

I see artists taking the spirit of Harlem back to their hometowns and countries spreading the message of supportive community, self-love, and good art.

 

In curating this Harlem week, I have found that I am less familiar with a huge part of Harlem—East Harlem, where our sisters and brothers are creating work just as enthralling and culturally aware. Where El Barrio is on fire with the work of our Puerto Rican and Afro-Caribbean brothers and sisters from Cuba, the Dominican Republic/Haiti and Colombia. Poets, visual artists, and musicians are blessing spaces like C A M A R A D A S el Barrio, The Poet’s Den Theater, and the Heckscherl Theater— housed at El Museo del Barrio to name a few. I am now on a personal quest to reclaim my connection with more of my people. I have started Spanish lessons (Join Me!!!) and hope to become fluent so that I can travel the world and create art with many nations. I hope to see these artistic worlds collide to create a Harlem that represents a full scope of the African Diaspora—bringing nations of people together that were once violently pulled apart.

In this regard, this movement in Harlem is representative of what our future could be. I see us RE-defining what blackness means to us. I see us RE-envisioning Harlem as a safe space to create work that continues to push the boundaries of not only our community, but the world. I see Harlem being an example of nations of people coming together to RE-claim themselves and their heritage, actively pursuing the answers and solutions to the questions and situations life poses.

Theater is the perfect road to explore these topics, but this movement is more than theater. This movement is a life movement. This is the next movement for THE MOVEMENT to come where Harlem will teach not only the Harlem community how to love and value itself, but many communities. Once the love is present internally, we can expand our understanding of ourselves and our communities—creating the work that can lead this world toward a more unified voice. One Community. Composed of millions of different cultures—many different ideas—all creating the whole.

Welcome to the Harlem community— Mine and Yours: harlemonestop.com

p.s. Many thanks to the many artists of Harlem that gave their voices in this series. You are all in my heart. And to the HowlRound community, thank you for participation and your willingness to go beyond home base. You are in my heart as well. Many Blessings.

—Erin

Thoughts from the curator

A series discussing the history and current state of theatre in Harlem, New York.

Harlem, New York

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Awww Erin!!! You make my heart smile. Your energy, your light, your love, your passion for all the work you do is much appreciated sister-friend!!

EDub, thanks for all the work you've done to put this week together. You should be proud of it. We, the members of your community, are blessed to have a champion like you on our team. Continue to inspire the types of change you want to see. Please continue to support the artists and the communities you believe in. You are an inspiration. Glad I know you and can call you friend, colleague, sister!