In celebration of First Person Arts’ 10th Anniversary, the First Person Festival of Memoir and Documentary Art is taking over Old City for an unprecedented 11 days with theater, storytelling, documentary film, workshops, author readings and more — all inspired by real life experience. First Person Arts was founded in 2000 as Blue Sky by Vicki Solot, in response to the burgeoning interest in memoir and documentary art forms. Solot appreciated the resonance of real stories and recognized their value as a means of bridging cultural and ethnic divides. This year, one of the featured presentations is April Yvette Thompson’s powerful one-woman show, “Liberty City.” The story takes place at the end of the 1970’s Black Power Movement in Miami. Thompson weaves a rich story of family, race and the value of understanding one’s history while forging one’s own path.
“I originally started this as a research project on slave narratives, and I wanted to do a one-person show where I dramatized real slaves’ narratives," recalled Thompson. “I did a ton of research because I was interested in the first person art form, and I’m always interested in how history impacts people’s lives, politicizes them and forces them to take a stand in real life—and of course, being enslaved is one of the institutions that forced us to make some stands.”
Thompson credits span film, television and theater. She has appeared Off Broadway in the New York premiere of “The Exonerated,” which ran for a year and half and was named the No. 1 play of 2002 by The New York Times. She also starred in the television version for “Court TV.” Her film credits include “Phoebe in Wonderland,” “Accidental Husband” and “Bernard & Doris.” As a playwright, Thompson is currently working on part 2 of her Miami Trilogy of plays, that began with “Liberty City” and continues with “Good Bread Alley.” With chameleon-like skill, Thompson deftly brings to life the many people that shaped her experience, including her progressive, Cuban-Bahamian father and African-American mother. “I grew up in a household where my father was black-listed because he demanded that the fight continues and you have to bring Black businesses into the community” explained Thompson. “We need to tell this story. How did the ’70s became the ’80s? What happened to our leadership? What is it that they were asking for in the ’70s that was different and America was not willing to give — and what is the toll that it took on those families?”
The show climaxes with the infamous Liberty City riots and the journey a young girl must take to protect her family. “‘Liberty City’ is a history play and a memory play happening in real time but on the non-linear template,” notes Thompson. “It looks at real events through the eyes of interrelated characters whose responses have been shifted and sent through the sieve of memory and under the critical eye of the child of flawed and compassionate radicals of the ’70s whose sacrifices allowed her access to a world of unencumbered intellectual exploration of the very rights and ideas they fought to access. It is a meditation on how the voices of the past have guided me: their limitations, their scope and how they’ve led me to a clearer understanding of the politics of power, race, gender and culture.”
The 10th Anniversary First Person Festival of Memoir and Documentary Art runs from Nov. 10–20 and will feature April Yvette Thompson’s One-Woman Show Liberty City on Nov. 11–12 and Nov. 18–19 at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American Street.