Students and an alumnus hope their one-act play sparks an ongoing local discussion on social justice, race relations, police brutality, gentrification, and the legalization of marijuana.
“Flames” brings Nashvillians inside the living room of an African-American police officer whose teenage son and friend are enraged by a police reaction to a jay-walker which leads to protests and riots around the city. Written by Preston Crowder ’12, the play is a fictionalized account of real-life incidents across the country and stars Alex Bahner ’17, Ramey Baynham ’18, and Henry Hicks IV ’17.
“It tells a good story about the overall issue of what is happening with Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, and it colors the perspectives of minorities and police in an interesting way,” said Bahner, who is cast as the police officer. “It is important to talk about these issues in this context because race and police-related riots could happen here and in any city as police become more militarized and people come more restless.”
USN Director Vince Durnan added, "We're committed to supporting the voices of young playwrights. And we welcome the chance to be part of the conversation about critically important issues facing our city and our wider world."
Written by Crowder at the request of High School Theatre Teacher and Director of the Production Catherine Coke, “Flames” is the first USN production to star an all-African-American cast.
“What I am trying to do is open up the dialogue about why this distrust exists between blacks and police. Can there be healing between the black community and police forces? How do we address police brutality in the United States? These are questions we need to address if we want to keep progressing as a nation and as a people,” Crowder said during an afternoon talk back during which he and the student actors tweaked the script.
“Theater is powerful, and art is meant to be discussed and interpreted by people. Putting the topic of police brutality on the stage in Nashville is important because it has the ability to force the audience to talk about what they see. And what they will see is raw, unapologetic approaches to social issues we are going through today. These are not isolated events," he added. "I could be the next hashtag, and Nashville could be the next Ferguson.”
No stranger to the stage, Crowder, who studied theater and African studies at Oberlin College, wrote 45 plays, including the book for a full-length musical, while a student at USN.
“Obviously ‘Flames’ is an extremely topical piece given what is happening in our nation,” Coke said. “It is necessary and important for our school to address and for the community to respond. This play is the jumping off point to discuss what divides us and what unites us in Nashville in a racial level. We cannot see a positive change without talking about those issues. Anger and frustration will be heard, but we need to make it a constructive conversation and an ongoing dialogue.”
Following the performance at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18, which is free and open to the public, the playwright and student actors will join city leaders for a community discussion on the sensitive topics “Flames” addresses. The open dialogue is meant to elucidate the differences in generational and racial perspectives and ignite a city-wide conversation on tolerance, unity, and on how to move forward positively when negative situations arise.
“Flames” also will show with a collection of one-act plays during “PlayFest 2016.” Performances are at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept.15, 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, and 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17 in the Auditorium. "PlayFest 2016" tickets are $5 for the general public and free for students, faculty, staff, and Tiger Arts Patron members.