Capping off their winter festival, Collaboraction’s dynamic team is at it again. Most of last year they were focused on their Peacebook initiative, while this year’s cornerstone is far more daring, facing racism, head on. Blending an inspired mix of original material combined from the worlds of acting, dance, spoken word poetry and film, Collaboration’s Encounter Series aspires to advance the specific and important narratives of cohesion. Collaboraction’s Executive Artistic Director, Anthony Mosely, has assembled a potpourri of nine rotating pieces, titled The Encounter Series, culled together through a series of open and invited submissions from artists residing within the Windy City. Initially performed at the permanent Wicker Park studios before being outsourced around Chicagoland in the next few months, this mixed media showcase focuses a white hot light on the controversial subject of racism, leaving the viewer hopeful for racial healing in Chicago and far beyond. This message also falling right in line with the social contemporary theatre’s concept, its signature brand for over two decades.
While the Encounter Series has nine separate elements, I will be focusing my critique on the one woman show, Reaction Time with Sonya Y. Jackson, a personal retrospective on life and family played as a rallying cry for much needed social change. Directed by Wren T. Brown, this poignant piece was written and performed by Sonja Y. Jackson. Perfectly timed against the rising 2018 tides of the #metoo and #timesup movements, declaring an all out war against sexual harassment, abuse or assault in the workplace, Jackson’s personal and professional life chronicled for public consumption, warts and all. From her father’s “Action Versus Reaction” philosophy, where he explained a young woman of color would be remembered by others for her reactions more than her actions to the many microaggressions tossed her way by a litany of sexist and racist bosses, Jackson proposed “there is no mastery when you are powerless.” Coming to realize racism is so innately insidious within the corporate world, she decided it was time to “walk away. It’s hard, but I’m better” for it. By the show’s ending, we all were.
Jackson also pontificated the critical importance of recognizing the people who often don’t receive any recognition. She spoke so lovingly of her aunt in the most personal vignette of the evening, so inspirational to both Jackson’s educational and professional journey. Also important on her ride, the powerful black female activist, academic and author, Angela Davis, and actress and icon, Pam Grier. In closing her full length showcase, Jackson compared the world of her childhood back in rural, mid-western 1968, to the volatile and polarized political climate of 2018. Jackson’s empowered battle cry “I will never go back” resonated in the hearts of each and everyone in attendance. My only real criticism of the piece, Jackson’s frequent stumbling over her lines. Whether is was nerves or just an off night, this was an off-putting, repeated distraction. With more rehearsal and performance time, her piece will pack a much more substantial wallop when executed seamlessly.
Now in its 22nd season, Collaboraction’s commitment to the transformational power of the performing arts is real and resonating. Taking on systematic racism through dance, poetry and film clips may seem an uphill and daunting task, but Sonya Y. Jackson’s Encounter Series Reaction Time is a truth-filled, poignant and inspiring step in the right direction.
Collaboraction’s Encounter Reaction Time with Sonya Y. Jackson is now playing throughout Chicago.