Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Interview with Shadrack Boakye of "The Secrets of Naci-rema"

By Byrne Harrison

Shadrack Boakye was born in Liberia, Africa during a crippling civil war that took the lives of over 200,000 citizens in the early 1990s. Along with his mother, Shadrack was one of the few survivors to escape the war-stricken country. Through all the hardships he has had to endure once he entered the United States, among them not being able to read, he has since then, proudly overcome adversities that many immigrants who enter a new country face. His drive and passion for the arts have presented many opportunities for him to channel his creative passion. He is now an accomplished debate champion, a public speaker, a writer, a playwright, a performer and the CEO of The Truth Urban Theater Group. For the past five years, his company has been travelling to venues on Long Island, New York City and other major cities performing original works.

Some of his accomplishments include: Earning multiple national awards - a signed boxing glove accompanied by a personal letter from the heavy weight boxing icon Muhammad Ali and winning two Gold medals on the NAACP-ACT-SO playwright and performance competitions which was judged by a distinguished Harvard graduate and a Columbia University Professor.

When not performing or writing, Shadrack is a motivational speaker for middle school students, and has performed and lectured at Universities on various topics such as: Discrimination, Immigration, Relationships, Inter-racial dating, Decision-Making, Child Soldiers, HIV/AIDS, Anti-Gang Violence, Bullying, Self-Esteem, Racism and Redemption. He has been a panelist on NBC’s Education Nation and has been sponsored by Miriam D. Couch, former President of 100 Black Women of Suffolk County through the I Am the Voice…Poetic Theater for Justice Program as a featured act at the United Nations.

He has received the honor of becoming the youngest male to be awarded the Black History Month Distinguished Service Award. Shadrack Boakye has proven that with faith and persistence, that any and everything is possible. His aim is to touch the world with his gift.

I like how you describe The Secrets of Naci-rema as showing ordinary people from around the world "taking a bite out of the forbidden fruit of life." What do you mean by that?

In The Secrets of Naci-rema the forbidden fruit reveals the alluring pitfalls each character has to overcome. As the story unfolds we see how each character becomes so consumed by secrets that they find themselves in a life-changing dilemma: Will I triumph over the serpent or will the serpent triumph over me?

The word FRUIT has a metaphorical meaning that is the heart of theme in this play. F: Fascination, R: Ruthless, U: Unbalanced, I: Infection and T: Triumph

Every day we make choices good or bad; but sometimes because of the insatiable thirst of our desires we chose to take a bite out of whatever shiny fruit is offered to us on a silver plate; even if offered by the serpent himself. If we examine those who have taken the first bite and savor the taste, we will see that they will become ruthless and begin to surrender to such things as greed, envy, temptation, lust and deceit. They begin to eat savagely with each bite taken; for fear that if they stop eating they will feel the pain. Only when the last bite is left is there any reflection on what they have become.

The characters in The Secrets of Naci-rema have succumbed to the ills of the forbidden fruit.

Michael: A Jamaican immigrant is fascinated by assimilation and becoming a ladies’ man.

Kofi: A Refugee from Uganda is fascinated by gaining his freedom from captivity and in the process undergoes a metamorphosis from human to beast.

Jorge: A Colombian immigrant and father of Selena is fascinated with obtaining the American Dream, at any cost.

Selena: Jorge’s daughter becomes submissive beyond recognition in order to survive.

Ruth: An African American young lady from the New York City is fascinated by the prospect of a Vendetta.

We’ve all been fascinated by the fruit of the serpent. The Secrets of Naci-rema explores what happens if we give in and take a bite out of the forbidden fruit. The fascination will lead us to become ruthless and unbalanced until our character is unrecognizable by others. The more we become entrenched into our pitfalls, the more others will pull away from us and the stronger our desire becomes to pass the infection on from one person to another. Inevitably, we hit rock bottom and reach a fork in the road and then the tug of war begins: surrender and let the serpent triumph over you or make the difficult changes and triumph over the serpent.

What drew you to create the play?

Whether riding on public transportation or walking, I have always wondered about the secrets of the people I encounter each day. Everyone reveals a glimmer of their life story as they go about their daily lives. As I observe people, I begin to silently listen to the clues they reveal in order to formulate stories. At first glance, the simplest clues begin to speak such as their ethnic background or how they use language and most of all their reactions to me and their reactions to their surroundings. Everything we do or don’t do tells something about who we are or who we want to be. One thing that I know for a fact is that many of us put on a mask in public so that our inner identity is never exposed. I believe we work on it so much that we truly begin to forget who we are, which is why this production is called The Secrets of Naci-rema - [Naci-rema], meaning American backwards. It’s an examination of ordinary people in America, who like people all over the world have a fear of connecting with people on a more personal level. It seems to stem from a fear of sharing secrets. Some people are so extreme that they fear even a simple “Good Morning”. Those that do interact freely are quickly labeled as the crazy. When did it become out of fashion to be who you are at all times? What are the roots of this fight to conceal who we are? The answer lies in part in the fascination of the serpents’ forbidden fruit, the theme of the play and a vehicle to explore my own flaws. This is what motivated me to write The Secrets of Naci-rema.

Tell me a little bit about the company, The Truth Urban Theater Group.

I began The Truth, as it was called backed then, in high school with the help of a few friends. My first full production was entitled The Truth which had a cast of 35 high school students. I wanted to write a play that I knew would challenge not only me and my peers to grow but also challenge the teachers and the community. This production I truly believe as well as many of those who came to see it, represented the voice of the entire student body. Although, we ran into many road blocks due to the nature of some of the topics, we were finally able to perform it just as it was written. The Truth premiered uncensored.

It took two years and much persistence on the part of students and teachers to get The Truth on stage. The play was a hit, 1000 people came over the course of two days. For the past five years, we have been known as The Truth Urban Theater Group, a young adult theater organization based on Long Island. Our performances give audiences of all ages, races and backgrounds an intimate, visual look at life’s grim realities and divine beauty. We use the captivating tools of drama, spoken word and poetry, to portray relatable characters who reflect everyday human errors, poor judgment, and the endless consequences of human flaws. Our goal is to leave our audiences contemplating alternative paths and solutions to remove the roadblocks we all encounter over a lifetime.

The Truth Urban Theater Group is dedicated to uncovering the unknown or forgotten sense of hope that can open doors that were once shut or locked away in our mind. All performances strive to break the chain of fear, destruction and other types of mental bondage by the portrayal of characters that resemble us.

What is your theatrical background?

I do not have a Degree in Theater nor have I been formally coached in theater, but I carry something with me that I believe is a gift from God passed down from the story tellers of the village where I grew up in Ghana, Africa and also from the beautiful poetic words my grandmother used to say to me to teach me about life and being a man. All of these things shaped me into the writer I have become. Even the drums, used in the play and in many of my productions have helped to put life into my words. In my village, like many villages in Africa, the drums are a vital part of daily life. I remember a game my grandmother I used to play. I would count all the buses coming into the village. Soon I began using my imagination and making up stories about the people on the bus.

In United States, after performing in a couple of high school plays I became fonder of theatre. At the age of 17 my high school teacher entered me as an actor in the 59th Annual Shakespeare Festival Scene Competition at Hofstra University. It was my first time ever performing Shakespeare and to my surprise I received an award for Best Actor.

This experience gave me the inspiration to write my first play, The Truth. After two packed performances, I entered the script into the NAACP-ACT-SO competition judged by a Harvard graduate and a Colombia University professor of playwriting; I was the only competitor to receive a gold medal, and as a result was entered in the acting competition and earned a gold medal.

My childhood experiences in Ghana and what I have learned watching other great theater productions and the gift I believe God has given me; I have begun a wonderful journey as an autodidact playwright, actor and director.

How would you convince someone who thinks theatre is an outmoded art form that it is relevant and can reach a modern audience, and more importantly, that they should come see this show?

Dramatic art forms awaken the human senses and create an emotional bond between the characters and the audience that lives on after the curtains are closed. I think video games, virtual reality and simulations are all forms of computerized theater, because the participant becomes a part of the game, just as a theatergoer feels that they are part of the events unfolding on stage. I would say to young people that Theater is like a virtual experience once the show begins you will feel like you are right there on the stage. Theater, unlike other arts forms allows you to feel the energy of the performers and become enveloped in their emotions. But most of all Theater is a powerful tool to help heal the ills of society. The Secrets of Naci-rema sets out to do just that.

The Secrets of Naci-rema
Presented by The Truth Urban Theater Group

Thursday, January 05 at 7:00PM 
at Wild Project
195 East 3rd St. (btwn Avenues A & B)

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