The Oregon Shakespeare Festival will open the world premiere production of Party People at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, July 7 in the New Theatre. Written by UNIVERSES (Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, Steven Sapp, William Ruiz, a.k.a. Ninja), the play is directed by Liesl Tommy, who last directed Ruined (2010) at OSF. Party People will run through November 3.
Commissioned in 2009 for American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle, the play examines the turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s through the collective memory of veterans of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, whose social movements during that period left a complicated legacy. It is this legacy that Party People explores.
OSF is especially pleased that this production will play in repertory with another American Revolutions commission, All the Way, set in 1963 and 1964, the first 11 months of Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency. Robert Schenkkan's play takes audiences far from the impoverished neighborhoods where the Black Panthers and Young Lords labored into the halls of power where Johnson wielded his influence to pass the Civil Rights Act, thereby laying the groundwork for Voting Rights Acts of 1965 and his other Great Society victories.
The Black Panther Party was a revolutionary leftist African-American organization active from 1966 to 1982 and was founded on the principles outlined in their Ten-Point Program: "Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace." They instituted a number of social programs to alleviate poverty and improve health among inner city black communities. Likewise, the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican nationalist group founded as a human rights movement in 1968, championed health care, education and tenants' rights for Latinos. J. Edgar Hoover saw the organized activity of these groups as a threat to the nation's internal security, and had them and other revolutionary movements infiltrated by his FBI Counterintelligence Program. These agents escalated the growing distrust and violence in the parties, and in time, the community and political achievements of the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords have been overshadowed by the often confrontational and militant tactics.
UNIVERSES spent months traveling the country speaking with members of the two organizations and listening to their recollections, inspiring a theatrical re-imagining of this significant period in American history. The interweaving of the stories moves us to reconsider these movements, the impetus for their formation, and work toward a better future for all Americans.
In her director notes, Tommy wrote, "These unsung heroes gave their time and their personal stories to UNIVERSES…and we were astounded, deeply moved and forever changed by what they shared."
UNIVERSES is a performance group that fuses theatre, poetry, jazz, hip-hop, blues, boleros, movement-and political activism. The Chicago Sun Times called them "wordsmiths… with the kind of verbal and musical facility old Bill Shakespeare engaged in when modern English itself was in its earliest stages of development – [what they do] is nothing short of reinventing the multiplicity of mother tongues in which they negotiate their world on a daily basis."
As with UNIVERSES' other works, the stories of Party People are issued with great emotion, amazing music and dance, exuberance, and exquisite craftsmanship. One of the major points of excitement for Party People, too, is that it marks the first time UNIVERSES will be working with actors from outside their company; it is a significantly grand and ambitious project, which is one of the goals of the American Revolutions commissioning program. UNIVERSES members Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William Ruiz, a.k.a. Ninja, and Steven Sapp have joined the OSF 2012 company, and in addition to them, the cast includes G. Valmont Thomas, Jadele McPherson, Mateo Gomez, Peter Macon, Michael Elich, Kimberly Scott, Robynn Rodriguez and Christopher Livingston.