This review is part of a critical writing mentorship program developed by SummerWorks with NOW Magazine. SummerWorks has not put any parameters or limitations on the writers’ responses.

A little known fact: many performers cherish the rehearsal period significantly more than the performance itself because the excitement of discovery is what fuels the story. burn, burned is on the cusp of that excitement.

Unfortunately, the outdoor SummerWorks performance I was scheduled to see was canceled due to weather conditions. But I was able to tune into the preliminary Instagram live-stream rehearsals of the piece created by Rodney Diverlus & Syrus Marcus Ware, in collaboration with Ravyn Wngz, Brayden Cairns, Chenise Mitchell, Dedra McDermott and Julia Consentino. From all of the theatrical offerings I have seen related to Black Lives Matter (BLM), I’m thankful to get first-hand interpretation and introspection from actual front-line freedom fighters. 

With Diverlus leading rehearsals, the performers start with stretching and vocal warmups. Then they each practice their monologue, connected to an entity like Spirit, Mama or Untitled, that aligns with the theme of liberation. Everyone in the space is masked, a fair distance from the recording camera, and it’s a casual rehearsal—so I’m simply responding to a sneak peek of the work. 

The concept of the piece itself is fascinating: how do we begin to work and live together post-revolution? It’s a state we haven’t quite reached. Yet it is still critical to see a destination that lives beyond the flames. Mainstream media has been reluctant to recognize the contributions of present-day activists beyond the relic civil rights-era leaders who, in large part, fit within and upheld patriarchal norms. But BLM is no cookie cutter manifesto.

The work in progress has been supported by SummerWorks LAB since 2018, beginning with a short excerpt that has steadily evolved, and has become more urgent for a society that is now beginning to listen. “I may not be the leader that you want, but I’m the leader that you have,” is a line that strikes me midway through. BLM has been revolutionary because of Black LGBTQ2S+ and cis women championing intersectionality, especially in solidarity with Indigenous communities. I hope that the uniqueness of Toronto’s local chapter is celebrated in the final draft.

This interdisciplinary piece appears to be rooted in dance, supported by text, much like Jasmyn ‘JazFairyJ’ Fyffe and Natasha Powell’s Gimme One Riddim (2013) and Esi Mensah’s Shades (2019). I wonder how burn, burned will incorporate words with movement as this work develops. Other than the song Certain Blacks “Do What They Wanna” by Art Ensemble Of Chicago, described in an Allmusic review as “outside or avant-garde jazz with soul, heart and funk,” the performers rehearsed without sound.

A sneak peek is just that. It’s wise not to feature the best bits before the show goes up, and this live-stream gave us enough to look forward to. After about an hour, the group waved goodbye and continued rehearsing off-camera.

This piece of art is another lifeline to a movement that, in many ways, moves in silence.

Written by Natasha Morris

Photo by Francesca Chudnoff

Check out the other Performance Criticism articles! LEGacy Circus, A New Black Poet, nowhen & Connected as we are