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'A revolution of the heart': UNC alumnus premiers original play 'They Do Not Know Harlem'


"They Do Not Know Harlem," an immersive performance by Tristan André will be on stage at PlayMakers Repertory Company until March 12, 2023.

Photo courtesy of HuthPhoto.

UNC alumnus and performance artist Tristan André  hopes people feel at home when they attend the PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of “They Do Not Know Harlem.” 

Showing through Sunday in the Paul Green Theatre, André's performance summons the spirit of civil rights activist and creative writer James Baldwin. 

Through movement and dance, the production creates a conversation between André and Baldwin's spirit. André, playing both Baldwin and himself, is the play’s creator and sole actor. In his roles, he explores the identities of Black and queer individuals.

“It is a multimedia experience, and it is a piece that transports time through my voice and through the voice of James Baldwin,” André said.

The story is supported by live music and spoken word, along with projections designed by Joseph Amodei and lighting designed by Kathy Perkins.

With these prominent elements, director Kathy Williams said the show gives audience members more points of entry and interest.

“It’s transportive — all the elements and the way they come together,”  she said. “I think it’s the aliveness of it that I just love. And it’s very reflective of our world today because we are inundated with imagery, and music, and sound and movement. It feels like it is both ancient and futuristic at the same time.”

Hope Hanson, a junior studying dramatic art, attended the show last Friday. She said the aspects of the show interacted perfectly to make a beautiful production, noting that André used his physicality to uniquely communicate his story and connection to Baldwin.

André said the production uses futuristic imagery to portray victims of homogenized cultures who make "a decision to dream," forging a life against the terrors of racism. 

André is a graduate of UNC’s Professional Actor Training Program – a master’s program in fine arts affiliated with PlayMakers and the Department of Dramatic Art.

“The work was birthed at UNC, through my third-year course of Movement for the Actor,” he said. “And it was an opportunity to explore someone who has been a balm and a huge inspiration in my life, and that just happened to be James Baldwin.” 

André said the work has transformed his personal life, making him more intentional and deepening his relationship with Baldwin as a man, not just as a historical figure.

“That, to me, is beyond anything. It’s beyond,” André said.

Since its inception a few years ago, the production has received a Spark the Arts grant from the North Carolina Arts Council and partnered with NorthStar Church of the Arts in Durham, where it recently hosted two workshop events.

André said engaging with the community is an important part of the production’s artistic process. He wants to create an equitable theater space with people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals and disabled individuals at its center.

“I think our continued work for PlayMakers and for all theater makers, especially those of us who are in large institutions, is to continue to be brave and find new and innovative ways to open the doors,” Williams said. 

The accessibility of the production was also impressive, Hanson said. She appreciated André's encouraging the audience to react to the production in whatever way they saw fit — clapping, dancing, singing or vocalizing.

“This work is a revolution of the heart,” André said.

Tickets and further information about the play can be found on the PlayMakers Repertory Company website


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Emi Maerz

Emi Maerz is a 2023-24 assistant lifestyle editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously covered UNC for the university desk. Emi is a sophomore pursuing a double major in journalism and media and dramatic art.