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Thursday, May 23, 2024
HomeNewsLocal news“Act Out Ensemble” Acts Out Emancipation 175

“Act Out Ensemble” Acts Out Emancipation 175

Act Out Ensemble Founder/Director Sayeeda Carter (Submitted photo)

In 2020, Sayeeda Carter brought together a group of adults who talked about issues in the community. The online conversations shared what the group envisioned they could do to bring awareness to those matters. “Act Out Ensemble” was born from those talks and  Carter’s background in theater. Founder and Director of the organization, she said,  “We can do all of what we spoke about through the use of forum theater.”

Forum Theater uses theater to achieve social aims. It is a form of theater that encourages audience interaction and explores different options for dealing with a problem or issue, Carter said.

Act Out Ensemble – Theater of the Oppressed Virgin Islands was the original name of the organization with its theatrical approach to community issues and its concentration on work with adults. 

“And now, we’re taking on new things, which is doing more with young people – creating/helping them in their ability to do ethnographic histories and some historical monologue work.”

Carter worked with four different sets of students, all young men, who graduated from Good Hope Country Day School, St. Croix Central High School, St. Croix Educational Complex High School, and Free Will Baptist School. Some are attending colleges on the mainland. The plan is to keep in touch via Zoom, social media, and chatting.

Carter is giving these young people the mission to pay attention to the Virgin Islands. They are invited to continue as part of Act Out Ensemble.

According to Carter, AOE is mostly an adult organization. A lot has been done through her teaching and as a member of the community, she said.

“My goal is to captivate these young people into being a part of AOE. In addition to historical monologues, they interviewed people in the community, as well.” The interviewers are students who are traveling to the mainland and others will be studying at the University of the Virgin Islands. One student is an 11th grader at SCECHS.

“I get a lot of help from my friends – especially Lindsay Simmonds, a local landscaper/farmer and Ariela Hayes, owner of Love & Light Bookstore. They are the two main people who keep me focused.”

The three women keep each other accountable and mindful of what is happening in the community. The trio will be starting back with the new adult season on Sept. 1.

“AOE is accepting new members with our regular six-week session. Then we will put some work out into the community,” Carter said.

AOE’s platform is the internet. “We like to think of ourselves as ‘Internet Gangsters,’” Carter said with a chuckle. “We spread awareness and agitate about problems, but we also offer solutions.”

“For nine months in 2022, we had a series at Serenity’s Nest that we called ‘Free-Up Fridays,” which was a lot of fun,” Carter said.

“We are discussing the possibility of starting a similar series at the United Caribbean Association (UCA) building adjacent to Buddhoe Park in Frederiksted.” 

“We are also considering the concept of taking ‘Free-Up Fridays’ to various community housing neighborhoods. We want to be a ‘roving concern’ where we can show up and get people out and talking. We will go to the people rather than have the people come to us. We are pretty low cost with the help of friends who, as individuals, own trucks, generators, and speakers.”

Carter spoke of doing community advocacy work and trying to teach or encourage people to raise their voices. 

“We want to be intentional. We don’t want to put people in a situation where they would possibly get some sort of a backlash. But how do you get people to start talking about the change that needs to happen while keeping them secure in their employment or in other areas of their lives? There is a need for change and there are a lot of people out here working toward it. But there seems to be a disconnect,” Carter said.

During the summer of 2024, there are plans for an Anansi Trickster Camp that will focus on how Anansi figures in the Caribbean, in African American, and in African cosmology. Carter spoke about the story – the part of the trickster –  the agitator, how compelling it can be, and how she looks forward to those plans.

“We also want to agitate for change around environmental concerns,” Carter said. “Having people know how to raise their voices is our mission way beyond entertainment. I love the word edutainment.”

“We want to ignite people with edutainment because we also need joy. ‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’ But a life with just sadness and drudgery doesn’t sound too appealing. We don’t want to go there,” Carter said.

Carter talked about all the work to be done in the Virgin Islands. “I think if everybody could creatively do their share, the work could almost become light.”

At the beginning of AOE video calls, Carter leads the group in Somatic exercises. “The work we do necessitates that you feel the ‘funkiness’ of the world and then you somatically feel inclined to want to do something about it.” 

This is the belief that the Brazilian theorist – problem solver Augusto Boal had. He felt that using theater to form revolutionary change agents was the way to go. Boal said, “Theater is not revolution, but it is a rehearsal for revolution.” He felt that weaponizing theater would bring attention to the issues.

Carter said, “When I watch a friend or a peer going through a painful experience affected by a family member being killed by gun violence, I want to help. So, some of the theater work we have done is on gun violence.”

“There is work to do about the whole gentrification question on the island, which can be seen as the onslaught of neocolonialism. Space is not being held for people who are here and may not have financial wherewithal, or are not ready for the new change, or cannot open a business, or are not profoundly educated. Dismiss them? Ignore them?”

These are the matters that matter. These are the issues that can be aroused through theater. Conversation and theater can be used to make people think, Carter said. “When you know better, you do better.

I want to be part of helping people know better.”

Carter has been teaching upwards of 30 years abroad and on island. Her background is in drama and speech, with the added classes in debate this coming school year. “I would like my students to interview their grandparents about their lives growing up on St. Croix, St. Lucia, and other Caribbean islands and document their experiences. Then, I would like their grandparents to talk about their lives and their concerns today.”

“I know my mom is concerned about not being able to come up to Christiansted to have dinner because there are no street lights for her to get back home to Frederiksted,” Carter lamented.

Carter has used historical fiction in her creation of monologues. “We did it with Emancipation. I want to do it with the St. John rebellion, with the Fireburn, with the nanny in the Maroons on Jamaica. I want people to take a look at history and think about what people were thinking and feeling and use it in the creation of a theatrical piece.”

“I look forward to my new SCECHS curriculum going full Virgin Islands and Caribbean. I must represent my people,” Carter said. “I’ve taught a lot of African American history. I love Harriet Tubman. I’m obsessed with the oratorical skills of Frederick Douglass, but let me go into my Hubert Harrison, my Casper Holstein, and my neighboring Caribbean islands. What is Mia Mottley [Prime Minister of Barbados] saying today that I wish my governor would say.  It will be really, really interesting. 

Carter shines the light on Zuma Nisbett, her 13-year-old daughter, who is the “tech-savvy” 9th-grade student she credits with putting up the YouTube videos. “I am so excited she accepted an unpaid position as the Act Out Ensemble content and social media manager. We will be fundraising for her stipend and other projects in the Fall.

Act Out Ensemble YouTube tech Zuma Nisbett (Submitted photo)

Special mention goes to student performances in the YouTube videos:

“I am Anna” by Sole Rogers, 11th grader, SCECHS

“Make Demands”  by Adaina Smith, 10th grader, SCECHS

“Voice to Ignite” by Kyraun Burke, SCECHS graduate, who will be attending George Mason University

Act Out Ensemble gives special thanks for partial support provided by Congresswoman Stacey E. Plaskett and to the friends and supporters of V.I. for Plaskett. 

Special thanks for support given by the Virgin Islands Lottery.

For more information, call 340-690-5927.


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