12 ANGRY MEN…AND WOMEN: THE WEIGHT OF THE WAIT

STREAMING SATURDAY, SEPT. 12

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake. Those names are sadly just the latest in a long line of violence against Black men and women going back generations. Now, as our city, state, and nation is roiled by ongoing protests demanding racial justice, Black artists and creators are coming up with new ways to address the moment. Here in New York, where stages are closed due to coronavirus, that hasn’t been easy. But in Brooklyn, the historic Billie Holiday theater has found a way. The theater’s Executive Director, doctor Indira Etwaroo and Tony award-winning actor Wendell Pierce join us tonight.

For more information on “12 Angry Men…and Women: The Weight of the Wait,” click here.

Aired on September 10, 2020.

TRANSCRIPT

> HI.

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN OF 'METRO FOCUS.'

GEORGE FLOYD, BREONNA TAYLOR, JACOB BLAKE.

THOSE ARE THE LATEST IN THE VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACK MEN AND WOMEN GOING BACK GENERATIONS.

NOW, AS OUR CITY, OUR STATE, AND OUR NATION IS ROILED BY ONGOING PROTESTS DEMANDING BLACK JUSTICE, BLACK ARTISTS ARE COMING UP WITH NEW WAYS TO ADDRESS THIS MOMENT.

HERE IN NEW YORK, WHERE STAGES ARE CLOSED DUE TO CORONAVIRUS, THAT HASN'T BEEN EASY, BUT IN BROOKLYN, THE HISTORICAL BILLY HOLIDAY THEATER FOUND A WAY.

JOINING ME NOW TO TALK ABOUT THAT IS TONY AWARD WINNING ACTOR WENDELL PIERCE.

WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

IT'S A PLEASURE TO BE HERE.

AND THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE BILLIEH HOLLIDAY THEATER.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

I WOULD LIKE FOR DOCTOR, IF YOU COULD START BY TALKING A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT THIS PROJECT IS.

12 ANGRY MEN AND WOMEN AND THE WEIGHT OF THE WAIT.

TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THIS PROJECT FOR PEOPLE WHO MIGHT NOT BE FAMILIAR WITH IT.

ABSOLUTELY.

'12 ANGRY MEN' IS A STORY WE DID IN 2015-2016, UNFORTUNATELY WE WERE RESPONDING TO THE RACIALLY MOTIVATED KILLINGS OF BLACK MEN AND FOCUSSED SPECIFICALLY ON BLACK MEN.

WENDELL PIERCE WAS A PART OF THE ORIGINAL CAST.

AN INCREDIBLE CAST AND THE PIECE WAS DIRECTED BY STEVEN McKINLEY HENDERSON.

UNFORTUNATELY, WE'RE AT A MOMENT WHERE RACIALLY MOTIVATED VIOLENCE CONTINUES TO BE A PERVASIVE PART OF THE SOISSUE O CULTURAL POLITICAL LANDSCAPE THAT WE AS AFRICAN-AMERICANS CONTINUE TO LANDSCAPE.

WE'RE DOING WHAT THE BILLIE HOLLIDAY THEATER HAS BEEN DOING FOR YEARS.

REFLECTING BACK TO THE AUDIENCE IS THE STORIES THAT ARE RELEVANT, THAT ARE PROFOUND, AND SPEAK TO THE EXISTENCE OF HOW THEY'RE LIVING IN THE WORLD.

YOU KNOW, WE FIND '12 ANGRY MEN THE WEIGHT OF THE WAIT' COMES FROM A TONY MORRISSON QUOTE THAT NOBODY EVER TALKS ABOUT HOW LONG WE'VE WAITED FOR JUSTICE.

A JUSTICE THAT NEVER CAME.

AND WE'VE ADDED THIS TIME AROUND, FIVE YEARS LATER, THE ELLIPSES AND WOMEN.

BECAUSE WE KNOW THAT THE KILLINGS OF BLACK WOMEN THEY'RE NOT -- THEY DON'T SPARK THE SAME AMOUNT OF OUTRAGE.

IT'S A MOMENT FOR US TO REALLY BRING THE VOICE OF WOMEN TO THE FLOOR.

YEAH.

UNFORTUNATELY THIS IS A NARRATIVE THAT CONTINUES TO BE UPGRADED AND ADDED UPON.

BUT, WENDELL, I WANTED TO FIND OUT FROM YOU, HOW DID YOU COME TO BE INVOLVED WITH THIS PROJECT AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU PERSONALLY TO BE TELLING SOME OF THESE STORIES?

WELL, UMM, I FIRST GOT INVOLVED WITH THE PROJECT -- I, AS AN ACTOR WANTED TO MAKE SURE THAT OUR CULTURALLY SPECIFIC BLACK THEATERS WERE THRIVING.

I WANTED TO RECONNECT, YOU KNOW, I'VE BEEN DOING A LOT OF FILM AND TELEVISION AND I WANTED TO -- AND I DO THEATER ALL THE TIME BUT IT WAS ALWAYS IN THE COMMERCIAL CONTEXT OUTSIDE OF THE THEATERS THAT NEEDED -- THAT NEED TO CONTINUALLY NEED OUR SUPPORT.

NOT ONLY AS AN ARTIST BUT JUST AS A COMMUNITY OF THEATER-GOING AUDIENCE.

I WANTED TO MAKE THAT RECONNECTION.

I WILL ALWAYS BRING UP THE EXAMPLE OF STEPHAN WOLF AND CHICAGO.

YOU HAVE JOHN WHO GOES BACK.

HE HAS A COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL CAREER IN FILM AND TELEVISION AND I WANTED TO DO THE SAME THING.

AND I FIRST CAME TO NEW YORK AS AN ACTOR AND LIVED NEAR THE BILLY HOLLIDAY.

I WANTED TO MAKE SURE I WENT BACK THERE.

SO WE DID THIS PRODUCTION, YOU KNOW, IN 2016 AND HERE WE ARE FOUR YEARS LATER AND IT'S STILL RELEVANT.

AND WHAT HAPPENED THIS SUMMER I WANTED TO MAKE SURE THAT I WAS PART OF THE AWARENESS THAT EVERYONE HAS.

IT SEEMS TO BE SOMETHING THAT WE'VE ALWAYS KNOWN IN THE COMMUNITY.

UH-HUH.

IS THE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE AN IMPRINT AND CHANGE PEOPLE'S VALUES AND MAYBE PUT THOSE VALUES INTO ACTION.

THAT'S THE ROLE OF AN ARTIST.

REFLECT ON WHO YOU ARE, WHO YOU HOPE TO BECOME.

AN ARTIST IN THE FORM OF ART IS WHERE WE COMMUNALLY REFLECT ON WHO WE ARE, DECIDE WHAT OUR VALUES ARE, AND THEN ACT ON THEM.

IT'S NOT JUST A PIECE OF ENTERTAINMENT.

ART IS A TANGIBLE WAY THAT SOCIETY MOVES FORWARD.

THAT'S WHY I WANTED TO BE A PART OF THIS.

THIS IS AN ONGOING VIOLENT TIME FOR AFRICAN-AMERICANS, MEN AND WOMEN.

I WANTED TO BE A PART OF THE VOICE, HOPEFULLY, TO CHANGE PEOPLE'S MINDS

WELL, SPEAKING OF NOT JUST ART BEING A TANGIBLE THING, AS YOU WERE SAYING, IT'S NOT JUST THE PIECES THAT YOU'LL BE PERFORMING BUT THE LOCATION, BECAUSE IT'S TAKING PLACE ON THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MURAL IN BROOKLYN.

I'M WONDERING IF THAT -- IF IT'S POSSIBLE CONSIDERING EVERYTHING YOU JUST SAID BUT DOES THAT ADD ANY ADDITIONAL SIGNIFICANCE TO THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WORKS YOU'LL BE PERFORMING?

ABSOLUTELY.

JUST THE IMAGE OF THAT.

JUST SEEING THAT MURAL WHEN IT WAS FIRST DONE, SEEING THE PICTURE THAT BILLIE HOLLIDAY PUT TOGETHER OF ALL THE ARTISTS, BLACK ARTISTS WHO HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO TRY TO GET THIS MESSAGE OUT.

IT'S IMPACTFUL.

THE MINUTE YOU SEE IT.

THE BLACK LIVES MATTER IT RADIATES THROUGHOUT THE WORLD.

EVEN IN THIS TIME OF PANDEMIC, THIS IS IS A SIGNIFICANT PIECE BECAUSE WE'RE LOOKING FOR A WAY TO GET BACK TO LIVE PERFORMANCE --

-- DEFINITELY --

WHILE WE SOCIALLY DISTANCE.

AND HERE WE HAVE AN IDEA THAT WILL BE PERPETUATED FOR THE FIRST TIME, REALLY, OF UNDERSTANDING HOW WE MOVE FORWARD WITHIN THE PANDEMIC AND POST PANDEMIC.

A HYBRID OF LIVE PERFORMANCE AND THEN ALSO LIVE STREAMING SO THE WORLD CAN SEE IT.

WHAT WE'VE LEARNED IN THESE TIMES IS UNDERSTANDING THIS HAS TO BE A WAY WE RECORD OUR LIVE PERFORMANCES AND LIVE STREAM THEM OUT SO THERE'S A HYBRID OF IT.

THOSE THEATERS AROUND THE WORLD WHO HAD ARCHIVE OF PERFORMANCES THAT THEY COULD PUT OUT THERE, LIKE THE NATIONAL THEATER, GOING BACK TO CHICAGO, THE GOODMAN THEATER HAD A COUPLE.

THEY WERE IN A BETTER POSITION TO MAKE SURE THEY MOVE FORWARD WITHIN THE TRYING TIMES.

SO WHAT THE BILLIE HOLLIDAY IS DOING NOW IS THE VANGUARD OF WHAT LIVE THEATER WILL BE LIKE DURING THE REST OF THIS PANDEMIC AND POST PANDEMIC.

THERE WILL BE LIVE THEATER AND NOW THIS 500-SEAT THEATER OR 300-SEAT THEATER, I DON'T KNOW THE NUMBERS EXACTLY, AT THE BILLIE HOLLIDAY BECOMES AN INFINITE AMOUNT OF SEATS.

THERE ARE GOING TO BE PEOPLE WATCHING AROUND THE WORLD WHEN WE LIVE STREAM THIS.

SO THIS IS THE VANGUARD OF HOW LIVE THEATER IS GOING TO BE MOVING FORWARD, I BELIEVE

WELL, ABSOLUTELY.

I WANT TO JUMP IN QUICKLY --

-- UH-HUH --

YOU KNOW IT'S ONE OF MANY THEATERS WHO ARE SERVING BLACK AUDIENCES THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY.

YOU KNOW, WE WERE ON THE FRONT LINES OF PIVOTING FROM LIVE TO ONLINE TO WENDELL'S POINT.

WE HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF BRINGING IN WALTER DALLAS, UMM, YOU KNOW, TWO WEEKS AFTER ALL THEATERS WERE CLOSED.

WE WERE ONLINE DOING 'AUTUMN' WITH SEVEN ACTORS AND FIGURING OUT WHAT ZOOM MIGHT BE TO THE THEATER KL COMMUNITY AND BEING GI GINNY -- GUINEA PIGS.

IT WAS THE LAST WORK THAT HE DIRECTED.

THESE CONVERGING PANDEMIC OF COVID-19 AND THE ONGOING RACIAL INJUSTICES IN THIS COUNTRY.

THE MURAL IS A SIGHT OF AFFIRMING HOW AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITIES HAVE BEEN DISPROPORTIONATELY IMPACTED IN THIS MOMENT.

I WOULD ARGUE THAT IT'S IN THE MOST CONSEQUENTIAL MOMENT SINCE 1918 WHEN WE WERE DEALING WITH THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC.

JIM CROW AND THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE WAS EMERGING OUT OF THAT MOMENT.

SO, YOU KNOW, HAVING OTHER 100 BLACK ARTISTS COME AND PUT THEIR FAVORITE PRINTS INTO THIS SACRED GROUND THAT IS A RICH CULTURAL HISTORY IS PROFOUND.

WE'VE HAD EVERYONE FROM AL SHARPTON TO SPIKE LEE TO ARTIST WHOSE NAMES WE DON'T KNOW.

JENNA, IF I CAN ADD MEN AND WOMEN BUT THE MURDER OF CHILDREN IN THIS COUNTRY 14-YEAR-OLD EMMETT THIEL, THE YOUNG 14-YEAR-OLD YOUNG CHILD WHO WAS EXECUTED, ELECTROCUTED, AND THEN THEY FOUND OUT THAT CASE WAS AN UNJUST CASE.

THOSE ARE ALSO THE NAMES PAINTED INTO THE MURAL BECAUSE AT SOME POINT WE NEED TO START OWNING IT ISN'T JUST ADULTS THAT HAVE BEEN MURDERED IN THIS COUNTRY BUT OUR BLACK CHILDREN HAVE BEEN MURDERED AT THE HANDS OF RACIALLY MOTIVATED VIOLENCE, AS WELL.

AND INSTITUTIONALIZED VIOLENCE.

YEAH.

GEORGE WAS ELECTROCUTED.

YEAH.

HE WAS TRICKED INTO A CONFESSION --

-- THAT'S RIGHT.

HE WAS SO SMALL HE COULDN'T EVEN FIT IN THE ELECTRIC CHAIR SO THEY SAT HIM ON A STACK OF BOOKS SO THEY COULD TAKE THIS YOUNG BLACK INNOCENT LIFE, YOU KNOW, AND SO IT'S THE FIERCE URGENCY OF NOW.

IT'S AN ONGOING THING AND UNDERSTAND THE VEIL IS LIFTED.

AND PEOPLE SAID IT SEEMS TO BE MORE HAPPENING NOW.

THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THIS NATION.

FROM THE ORIGINAL SIN OF SLAVERY.

IT'S IN THE DNA --

AN THE ONGOING VIOLENCE IS SOMETHING WE HAVE TO WORK ON.

YEAH.

BEFORE I LET YOU BOTH GO, DOCTOR, I WANT TO MAKE SURE THE PEOPLE KNOW IF THEY WANT TO TUNE IN AND LIVE STREAM THIS.

HOW DO THAT?

TUNE IN TO THE BILLIE HOLLIDAY CHANNEL ON YOUTUBE AND FACEBOOK AND I IMAGINE PEOPLE WILL JOIN US ON FULTON STREET BETWEEN BROOKLYN AND NEW YORK AVENUE.

UNFORTUNATELY WE'RE OUT OF TIME.

I WANT TO THANK YOU BOTH SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THIS IS GOING TO BE A VERY, VERY POWERFUL PIECE, I'M SURE.

WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING IT WHEN IT DOES GO LIVE.

THANK YOU, BOTH.

THANK YOU.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING US.

ABSOLUTELY.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

WNET

© WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019