Audience participation is an important component of actor and playwright Mike Wiley’s work. In Playmakers Repertory Company’s production of “Blood Done Sign My Name,” Wiley performed in front of a live Zoom audience to maintain the interactive nature of the play.
“Blood Done Sign My Name” is an adaptation of Tim Tyson’s book of the same name. It tells the story of Henry “Dickie” Marrow, a Black man murdered in an act of racial violence in Oxford, North Carolina in 1970.
Marrow was chased from a local store and then killed by three white men after reportedly making a rude comment to the wife of one of the men.
The performance features renditions of spirituals like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Soon I Will Be Done” by gospel scholar and singer Mary D. Williams.
The play originally premiered in 2008 and became part of a group of plays Wiley tours around the country.
“I’ve dedicated my career to lifting stories that are not often told in the Black community – historic stories,” he said.
Although Wiley currently can’t perform in front of live audiences, he has adapted much of his work to film and video.
By performing this play in front of a live Zoom audience, he was able to interact with the viewers.
“I wrote it with the idea of call and response,” Wiley said. “The kind of age-old way that Black churches have a gospel call and response that intertwines music with message.”
He said he encouraged Zoom audience members to unmute themselves and sing along during parts of the show.
“I remind them that it’s not going to be pretty, but that’s not the point,” he said. “The point is that it’s communal. The point is that we are working towards a goal. The smaller goal being the outcome of the play, the larger goal being building community in one space with each other and having a sense of hope when it’s all said and done.”
Serena Ebhardt directed the original stage production of “Blood Done Sign My Name.” She said the play is important to understanding the history of integration in North Carolina.
“We were a little late to the table from the perspective of law,” Ebhardt said. “Things didn’t really start happening until many years after Brown v. Board of Education in terms of integration. It’s North Carolina history, so it’s totally appropriate that Playmakers would take this up.”
But the play isn’t just a story about something that happened in the ‘70s in North Carolina, Ebhardt said. She added it is about acknowledging and learning from history so it’s not repeated.
“If we erase it or we don’t talk about it then, oh goodness, human nature will just make it happen again,” she said. “We have to consciously choose to live to our higher selves. It doesn’t just happen.”
Ebhardt said she thinks the different take on the story and different medium that the Playmakers version offers is amazing.
“Given that the pandemic has forced ways for us to be creative with the arts and continuing to make our livings and tell our stories, I think this was a marvelous choice, and they’ve done it in the most interactive way that you can do a piece,” she said. “I’m really delighted to see the evolution of the telling of this story.”
Tickets to stream a recording of the on-stage performance of the play are available through Feb. 7.
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