Help: A New Play by Claudia Rankine
About this commission
After closing during previews in March 2020 due to the pandemic, The Shed presents the world premiere of Help, a new play by acclaimed author and poet Claudia Rankine (Just Us, Citizen: An American Lyric), directed by Obie Award-winner Taibi Magar (Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, Signature Theatre; Is God Is, Soho Rep).
Derived from Rankine’s deep inquiry and ongoing investigation into white dominance, Help stars April Matthis (Toni Stone, Roundabout Theatre; Fairview, Soho Rep) as the Narrator, a Black woman who recounts Rankine’s real-life conversations with white people that take place in transitional spaces like airports. As the stories unfold through monologues and staged scenarios, Help explores how these conversations can go right, wrong, or raise new questions about our fragile democracy.
Rankine’s body of work, for which she has been awarded MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, crosses lyric poetry and prose essay to navigate questions of race, healthcare, loneliness, and what it means for a life to matter in American society today.
Recommended for ages 14 and up; includes adult language and content around white supremacy, racism, and misogyny
over 1 year ago
In July of 2019 the New York Times published an essay I wrote entitled in the print version, “Brief Conversations with White Men,” and online, “I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.” The piece received 2,197 comments. I also received over 200 email correspondences from people I didn’t know. Surprisingly, I was suddenly in conversation with hundreds of white men and a number of Black women.Though I wasn’t able to respond to each person individually, Help became a way to use theater to continue the conversation.
Help is a play in which the Narrator inhabits the category of the Black woman in order to be in dialogue with the structure of white supremacy. As the playwright, I was interested in exploring with various publics our power structure, comprised primarily of white men who ultimately determine all civic possibility. According to the US Census Bureau, for example, white men comprise approximately 31 percent of the US population. Yet, since the Supreme Court’s inception in 1789, 94 percent of justices have been white men. In today’s 117th US Congress (the most diverse in our history), 60 percent of its members are white men. According to Fortune magazine, 7 in 10 senior executives are white men, who also account for 72 percent of corporate leadership at the 16 Fortune 500 companies that share demographic information.
The text spoken by white people in the piece was primarily culled from responses to the Times article; public statements by men and women in the government and public life; and interviews conducted with white men by civil rights activist and theologian Ruby Sales, or documentary filmmaker Whitney Dow, or myself. Where the dialogue was excerpted from interviews, no autobiographical details were included. This is a play holding loosely the categories of white man, white woman, and Black woman. The various white men and women do not hold any single identity throughout the play, but speak with the many voices and positions expressed in response to the original article and recent events (including the January 6 insurrection and the global pandemic).
Help builds on the desire to create a shared reality. One in which there is agreement not in how to respond but in what we see is happening. If it’s raining, can we all agree it is raining? How we respond to the rain varies, but can we agree the rain is coming down? Can we live in relation to each other within a shared knowing? The genius analysis, language, and work of Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman, Lauren Berlant, Frank Wilderson III, Jared Sexton, and Christina Sharpe is foundational to Help. As Ruby Sales has said, “I want a theology that begins to deepen people’s understanding about their capacity to live fully human lives and to touch the goodness inside of them, rather than call upon them—the part of themselves that’s not relational. Because there’s nothing wrong with being European American; that’s not the problem. It’s how you actualize that history and how you actualize that reality.”
over 1 year ago
Creative and Production Team
Jess Barbagallo, White Man #7
David Beach, White Man #4
Tina Benko, White Woman #1
Charlotte Bydwell, White Woman #2
Zach McNally, White Man #6
Joseph Medeiros, White Man #3
Tom O’Keefe, White Man #1
Matthew Russell, Ensemble (u/s)
Rory Scholl, White Man #9
John Selya, White Man #5
Charlette Speigner, Narrator (u/s)
Jeremy Webb, White Man #2
Nick Wyman, White Man #8
Ashley Pierre-Louis, Associate Choreographer
Daisy Peele, Music Director
David Lurie-Perret, Production Stage Manager
Rachel A. Zucker, Assistant Stage Manager
Emily Skillings, Script Supervisor
Peiyi Wong, Associate Scenic Design
Luke Simcock, Associate Costume Design
Tessa Bookwalter, Associate Lighting Design
Tye Hunt Fitzgerald, Associate Sound Design
Meredith Prouty-Due, Assistant Costume Design
Nicole Brewer, Anti-Racist Coordinator
Chelsea Pace, Intimacy Consultant
Carrie Mossman, Props Supervisor
Seth Huling, Head Audio
Maytt Martinez, Head Lighting
Josh Galitzer, Head Carpenter
Lisa Delcegno, Followspot Operator
Trevor Dewey, Lighting Programmer
Kayleigh Truman, Props
Micah Zucker, A1
Harry Platt, A2
Ann Comanar, Head Wardrobe
Mark Klein, Dresser
Coral Cohen and Jessie Sabatino, Covid Health and Safety Managers
Madison Tarchala, Production Assistant
Scenery by Global Scenic Studios
Additional lighting equipment by PRG Lighting
Additional audio equipment by Sound Associates
Flooring by Halls Carpet
Alterations by Kyle Pearson
Madani Younis, Chief Executive Producer
Laura Aswad, Producer
Daisy Peele, Associate Producer
Frank Butler, Director of Production
Sarah Pier, Production Manager
Backstage crew employees are represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (or I.A.T.S.E).
United Scenic Artists Local USA 829 of the I.A.T.S.E represents the Designers and Scenic Artists for the American Theater.
The Director and Choreographer are members of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, Inc., an independent national labor union.
- Running time: Approximately 90 minutes
- Recommended for ages 14 and up; includes adult language and content around white supremacy, racism, and misogyny
- This production includes haze effects and loud music
Join us as we build community around this production.
Friday, April 8, Black Women’s Night
Saturday, April 9 (matinee performance), Community Day Event: Student and Educator Day
Thank you to our partners
The creation of new work at The Shed is generously supported by the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Commissioning Fund and the Shed Commissioners. Major support for live productions at The Shed is provided by the Charina Endowment Fund, with additional support from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.
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