“This is no camera, nothing cut. This is real," says Tranee Wallace, whose story is one of three live radio plays in Dan Froot and Company's "Pang!" at Miami Light Project's Light Box at the Goldman Warehouse.
Hers is one of a triptych of oral histories adapted into plays of families facing adversity: A Los Angeles single mom who loses the home she and her nine children live in after being swindled; refugees in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who have escaped war-torn Burundi, but find that their success in the Midwest has its own challenges. And then there's the story of the Miami family, which is based on Wallace's then seven-year-old son, Tramaine (his name is Terrence in the play), and living in the underserved neighborhood of Overtown, where the boy experiences the shooting death of his friend and then his own brush with death.
The project initially began with a focus on families facing food insecurity, a term that the USDA describes as an economic and social condition where there is limited access to food, and especially healthy food. Froot's intention of recording the oral histories would be a way to destigmatize local hunger. Along the way, however, hunger took on a deeper meaning.
"My participation has been a great experience, especially because of the nature of the plays being about families in the United States hungering for change," Wallace says. It ended up that none of the stories centered on food insecurity.
"These families teach us that hunger and food insecurity is so deeply woven into the fabric of their lives that it's inseparable from other pressing issues they face: foreclosure, cultural barriers, racism and gun violence," says Froot, who worked with local social service agencies to helped him identify families willing to participate, then acted as liaisons throughout the process.
There was no better way to present the stories than as live radio plays, says Froot, who spent his youth listening to stories on records, and is now mesmerized by podcasts. The idea for presenting "Pang!" with only the essentials was purposefully intentional and matched the mood of the stripped-down stories Froot wanted to tell. "All the mechanics are exposed; there is nothing on stage that is not purely functional." Performers stand at microphones and use scripts as they voice dozens of characters, everyday items are used to create the sounds of daily living. In the Miami segment, actors put their fingers in pairs of children's shoes as they scuffle across small slabs of concrete.
"We're putting the audience in an empathic position relative to the families. We want them to feel as if they are between the ears of each family. It's a bit of work that the audience must do, but it is imaginative work, and we wanted that. Besides, it wouldn't match the content if we were doing it on a $100,000 stage set."
"Pang!" was co-commissioned by Miami Light Project and Legion Arts in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, along with the National Performance Network's Creation Fund Project. Elizabeth Boone, artistic and executive director of Miami Light Project, has been involved with "Pang!" for the past three years.
"It's that cliché that Dan had me at 'hello.' I was taken by his desire to tell these lesser-told stories," says Boone. And the presentation as radio plays was another draw, according to Boone. "It engages the audience in an unusual way. You have to buy in. You help to shape the way the story is imagined."
Wallace, who will host discussion sessions after "Pang!" in Miami, is excited to see how the many interviews she engaged in have been turned into a play. And while the Overtown mother says she never dreamed she'd be part of the creation of a theatrical experience, she has always had the desire to tell her story.
"For me, if someone is going to listen, and hear my cry for wanting a better place for kids to grow up, and a better place for the community in general, well, I was just willing to put it out there, and let people know what's really going on. I figure it might help someone."
“Pang!," Friday, Jan. 26, and Saturday, Jan. 27, at 8:00 p.m., Miami Light Project at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 N. W. 26th St., Miami; tickets $15-$25; http://www.miamilightproject.com/portfolio-item/dan-froot-pang/
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