Ten years after "The Great Immensity," received a National Science Foundation grant that drew the ire of Congressional Republicans, The Civilians' Artistic Director Steve Cosson discusses the complicated relationship between the government and arts organizations.
The United States of America has been profiting off of Black Bodies and Talent since its inception.
“That’s not a read. That’s a fact.” — Dorien Corey
Much if not all of my work for theatre is about navigating the realities, results, and complications of that fact. Music, I feel, is the mother tongue of the Black American experience, and is hence, the reason why music and musicality are interwoven in everything I write. TRAPT, an exploration of trap music, its culture, and its ramifications for Black men, is one of the most difficult/ambition pieces I’ve created to date. It’s forcing me to reckon my age, my sexual identity, and my personal history with my love for a genre of music which often holds no regard for any of those things.
Let me start with me & Hip Hop.
My brother Anthony is 17.
My sister Deborah is 15.
My brother Curtis is 12.
I worship them.
They worship Run-DMC.
I remember thinking the click clack beat in Sucker MC’s were made by the toy of the same name.
Larry put me inside the Ca-dill-ac the chauffeur drove off and we never came back.
I remember how cool I thought the idea of that was.
I remember their Lee jean suits & Adidas.
Name belt buckles.
Transcendent of situation.
Hip Hop imprinted itself on my DNA during my formative years. It gave voice to the voiceless. Empowered the powerless. In a world where me and mine were socioeconomically inferior, Hip Hop gave us the leg up of cool. The kind “they” couldn’t touch. It was code. It was … life. OUR life.
That was until …
Crack in the streets.
Video Music Box on TV.
VJ Ralph McDaniels.
Who are these White dudes with Run-DMC?
Now there’s a backseat, lover/
That’s always undercover/
And I talk ’til my daddy say!
What does that even mean?
I dig it.
So does everyone else.
The commercial revolution Hip Hop became began, a least in my mind, with Run DMC’s “Walk This Way.” This is when it begin to feel like everyone else was “in on” what once singular to our community. America consumed it whole. It went down smoothly, at first. Then there were bits of resistance, battles fought and won.
2 Live Crew.
I remember thinking the beat was weird.
Their lyrical flow was … different.
All my White classmates loved it.
You can say I’m desperate, even call me perverted/
But you say I’m a dog when I leave you fucked and deserted
Hip Hop won.
It’s officially a force,
To be reckoned with,
Without a doubt, Hip Hop’s Golden Age was the 1990s.
(Don’t dispute me on this.)
Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Native Tongues, Tribe Called Quest, Leaders of the New School.
Biggie, Tupac, Dre, Snoop.
Dirty Souf sound. Jermaine Dupri. Outkast.
Bad Boy, Death Row, So So Def
Videos got more detailed, slick, beautiful people with more wealth than I’d ever seen in my life. Half-naked women. SMALL half-naked women. I don’t look like them. The make me feel … ugly, fat, less-than.
I’m 21. I break up with BET (which at that time was essentially a music video station) and music videos in general. (To this day, I rarely watch them) They were no longer a reflection of who I saw myself as.
Hip Hop begins to feel foreign. We drift apart. Not before Lauryn tho …
Now the joy of my world is in Zion
I’m a mother.
Zion Christopher Rose.
He changes every thing.
I’ve got a kid now. I’m thinking about morality. I get heavy into Rastafarian thinking. I’m a borderline Hotep. I feel like Hip Hop is becoming a negative force.
My nephews are 14 & 10.
They worship Master P. & Gucci Mane.
Lil Wayne & …
I’m afraid for them.
That fear manifests as rage against Hip Hop.
We argue constantly about Hip Hop’s negative influence.
Hip Hop and I are barely on speaking terms.
I wrap myself in parenting, Slam Poetry (regrettably), and an ill-thought-out marriage. Which lead to me wrapping myself up in self hatred, copious amounts of alcohol, and being a bad parent. I need an outlet. I need to feel like “me” again.
Where is Hip Hop?
We don’t talk no more.
Theatre. I’ll do theatre.
I’m a bad mother.
I’m a raging (yet functional) alcoholic.
My nephews have begun their respective dances with correctional facilities.
I’m convinced Hip Hop’s influence is partially to blame.
I’m a mess.
I’m trying to hold on.
I’m finally in therapy.
I’m pursuing my second undergraduate degree.
A 30 year-old, 300+-pound woman in a sea of White 20-somethings.
These years were bittersweet. I found my space in theatre, but I lost myself in so many ways, some of which were necessary, some of which I’m still trying to recover. Theatre gave me a way to emote. I could stand out in a space that I could have easily become invisible because of the thing I could do with words. Theatre quickly became my everything, an excuse not to feel or emotionally engage the glaring issues present in my life.
There was a price for this.
A deeper disconnection from my family and some ways Black culture.
A deeper disconnection from my body,
Because therapy is hard and who wants to do that shit?
A deeper dive into alcoholism.
I hit bottom.
It was time to pick of the pieces.
It was time to dig deep and grow,
And that’s what I did.
There was balance, Rhythm,
Connectedness, even …
I was making theatre, working part time, becoming a better parent, and generally living life. And it was an amazing few years, Then …
My kid is 14.
After much goading, I head to grad school at NYU.
Zion is staying in Charlotte with my family.
I am judged heavily for this, by myself and others.
Nonetheless, off I went to “the big leagues, filled to the brim with doubt.
“What if I’m not good enough?”
“I don’t know nearly enough about theatre?”
“What if I do all this, and never have a career?”
These questions that plagued me constantly.
Then like an old friend.
A distant lover.
Hip Hop showed up again to remind me …
I’m a bawse.
There’s is literally no way I would have gotten through grad school without
The bravado provided by listening to Trap music full blast during my routine commute
from the Bronx to 121 Broadway.
Three 6 Mafia: “You bitches ain’t runnin’ shit butcho mouf”
Two Chainz: “They ask me what I do and who I do it fo,
and how I come up with this shit up in the studio!”
Future: “On the phone, cookin’ dope at the same damn time!”
And of course … The Migos
In the sea of Whiteness that I navigated during my grad school years, Hip Hop, especially Trap would be my true north. The raunchy lyrics and earth shaking beats by producers like Metro Boomin and Mike Will were instant confidence boosts during a time I was desperately seeking a voice and sense of self.
Trap made me feel:
Transcendent of situation.
An unexpected bonus of my rekindled relationship with Hip Hop and my relatively new found love of Trap, is the strengthened relationship with my son it brought about.
I am 41.
Zion is 18.
Zion tells me the outrageous story of this young emcee named Tay K 47. I pull up his photo. He looks like a child. A small child. He’s accused of committing very adult crimes. The more I read about Trap artists, the more I realized how quickly the industry, in one way or another, was chewing through these kids.
I was moved.
In part because of my nephew’s plight.
In part because I am the mother of a Black son.
And in part,
Because I’m a human being whose kindness and empathy don’t cease in the presence of deeply flawed humanity.
Zion and I do some talking, he’s an emcee now. He makes beats now. He’s kinda great at it or whatever …
We decide to do something that we’ve done only in small bits before; collaborate. The piece would be a combination of investigative theatre and live performance, that lives inside of beats that, as he might put it, “slap.” I’m very excited about the prospect of this project. He is too.
Zion is 20.
So much has happened since our idea was born:
Migo’s fame became other worldly.
Gucci Mane, now elder statesman of Trap, has begun his career anew, and is happily married. He’s on Solange’s new album even …
Tay K is still in prison, and quite honestly, it doesn’t look good.
Kodak Black can’t stay out of jail.
Offset cheated on Cardi.
They had a baby.
He cheated again.
She took him back.
Artist XXXTentacion was murdered in his vehicle,
with a bag of money he intended to donate.
And revolutionized how women move through the world.
How do I reckon this new movement,
With my love for a music so opposed to it.
How do I reckon writing a piece that seeks to hold a more loving eye on a
genre where one of its most central artist,
Disallowed fat women entry into a club he was performing at.
The answer is: I don’t know.
What I do know,
is that my relationship with Trap music,
(its simultaneous building up & tearing down of me)
is as complicated as my relationship with this country.
Hence, this navigation in the realities of Black bodies in America,
& the exploration of our talents,
an eye must be turned to how,
in the pursuit of American greatness,
of the capitalistic dream,
Black sons tear down the very Black Mothers whose;
& legs marched,
for their survival.
And this is something that, with my son by my side, I will attempt to reckon with.
Stacey Rose hails from Elizabeth, NJ and Charlotte, NC respectively. She is a proud mom, daughter, and sibling. She earned a BA in theatre at UNC Charlotte and is an alum of the MFA program in Dramatic Writing at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Stacey has presented work at: The Fire This Time Festival, The Brooklyn Generator, The Bushwick Starr Reading Series, The Amoralists Theatre Company, Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, National Black Theatre, Pillsbury House Theatre, and The Lark’s Playwrights Week. She was a finalist for the 2018 Princess Grace Fellowship, was a 2015-16 Dramatist Guild Fellow, a 2017-18 Playwrights’ Center Many Voices Fellow, a 2018 Sundance Theatre Lab Fellow, and is a 2018-2021 Playwrights’ Center Core Writer. She is a 2018 – 19 member of The Goodman Theatre’s Playwrights Unit and The Civilians R&D Group. In January 2019, Stacey was the inaugural recipient of Barrington Stage Company’s Burman New Play Award with her play AMERICA v. 2.1 THE SAD DEMISE & EVENTUAL EXTINCTION OF THE AMERICAN NEGRO. The play will receive a world premiere production at Barrington Stage Company in June 2019. Stacey’s play LEGACY LAND will world premiere at KC Reps New Works Festival in February 2020. Stacey’s work celebrates and explores Blackness, Black identity, Black history, body politics, and the dilemma of life as the “other.”