When LaNeshe Miller-White met her friend Carlo in his favorite skateboarding spot, she knew right away where she would stage her first theater production: Malcolm X Park. The 6-acre square between 51st and 52nd streets is a longtime cultural hub of West Philly.
“It had such beautiful murals and nature and people and energy, and I just immediately visualized really charged theater happening there,” says White, who has worked for a number of small theater companies in Philadelphia since graduating from Temple University in 2008.
White’s vision is to bring challenging African-American voices into the open air of X Park. Using funding from a modest grant by the Leeway Foundation, she has selected two pieces that fit that bill to a T: Nilaja Sun’s “No Child…” and Amiri Baraka’s “Black Mass.”
“We’ve been very clear with the actors from the beginning: This is going to be an expect-the-unexpected type of performance,” says White. “We’re coming into their space, so we can’t expect the whole park to shut down and pay attention to just us.”
Directed by Andre G. Brown, the outdoor production of “No Child…” will adapt Sun’s 2006 one-woman show into a multi-character play. The text is based on Sun’s experience as a teaching artist in some of the most violent and underfunded schools in New York.
Director Christina May will have a far more experimental play to work with: “A Black Mass” is a rarely performed 1968 script by legendary African-American poet Amiri Baraka. The play explores the origins of skin color through the lens of Nation of Islam doctrines.
“We wanted to pair the classic with the new: plays that spoke to both the past and present of the community, “ says White. “We wanted to make it a unique experience. You definitely don’t see these plays being done all over the place.”
Theater in the X
Malcolm X Park
52nd and Pine streets
'No Child…' Aug. 18, 6 p.m.
‘A Black Mass’ Aug. 25, 6 p.m.