With Pass Over, the SpeakEasy Stage brings a much-needed perspective to Boston’s homogeneous theater scene
Every year more and more individuals, from industry professionals to general audiences, are highlighting the need to address the lack of diversity, representation, and equitable access to opportunities in the arts. Much of the work produced by major cultural institutions and the mainstream entertainment industry does not reflect our nation’s demographic diversity. Equally important is representation behind the scenes to prevent tokenism. Several artists and cultural institutions have expressed their commitment to improving diversity and inclusion within the entertainment industry. One local company that has been taking steps to bring stories to the stage that are challenging and relevant to all members of our community is the SpeakEasy Stage Company.
The SpeakEasy Stage Company is a non-profit theatre company located in Boston’s South End and is led by award-winning Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault. SpeakEasy states that they have a mission of producing plays and musicals that are new to Boston and compel thoughtful conversation. The company provides jobs for hundreds of locally-based artists, actors, directors, and technicians each year, and trains early career artists through its fellowship and emerging artists programs, supporting them as they develop their potential.
One of the plays on the SpeakEasy roster for the 2019-2020 season is Pass Over, written by Antoinette Nwandu and directed by Monica White Ndounou. A mash-up of Waiting for Godot and the Exodus saga, Pass Over explores racism, police brutality, and anti-blackness through the story of Moses and Kitch (played by actors Kadahj Bennett and Hubens “Bobby” Cius), two young black men dreaming of a way out of their block. The play is set “right now, but also 1855, but also 13th century BCE.” Undoubtedly, Pass Over’s exploration of liberation and the implications of systemic and interpersonal racism are as relevant as ever. Although manifestations of racism transform over time, this system is still upholding structural inequities and reinforcing anti-blackness.
SpeakEasy Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault says of their decision to include the play in the theater’s 29th Season that he “knew from [a] very first reading of Pass Over that this was a play I had to produce, especially given its relevance at this particular time in our country’s history.” Daigneault goes on to say, that “while other theaters may shy away from the unusual storytelling or controversial subject matter, I was emboldened in the knowledge that the [SpeakEasy] audience would welcome the challenge and be willing to take this journey.” For this production, SpeakEasy collaborated with the Front Porch Arts Collective, a Black-led professional theater company committed to advancing racial equity through theater in Boston.
Through the characters of Mister and Ossifer, both played by Lewis D. Wheeler, Pass Over encourages audiences to explore the relationships between covert racism and explicit white supremacy. As an organization committed to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all, YW Boston encourages communities in Boston to engage with content that can spark transformative action. Beyond having an experience or conversation that stays at the theater, we urge audiences to take stock of how we may be contributing to anti-blackness, to think about racial equity with an intersectional lens, to explore the differences between “not racist” and “anti-racist,” and to move beyond conversations and into action.
During an interview, Director Monica White Ndounou was asked about the type of conversations she hoped Pass Over would spark. “I’m less interested in the conversations than action,” said White Ndounou. “The cycle of violence against Black people needs to stop. Now. The racial disparities in healthcare, education, wealth, etc. need to be addressed on local, state, and national levels. Now.” Playwright Antoinette Nwandu hopes that audiences take something away from Pass Over: “We all come to the theater with our own baggage, and hopefully we leave with our baggage a little bit shifted.”
Pass Over will be showing at the Calderwood Pavilion (Boston Center for the Arts on 527 Tremont St in the South End) through Sunday, February 2, 2020. Click here to purchase tickets. Use the promo code SPKHIB25 to get discounted tickets for $25. (Full price: $70)
About YW Boston
As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and youth programming, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.