Hands Up 1

Cast members of Portland's August Wilson Red Door Project perform "Hands Up," a series of monologues exploring the well-being of black people in a culture of institutional profiling. The Corvallis/Albany NAACP is sponsoring two performances of "Hands Up" this weekend at OSU.

Courtesy of the August Wilson Red Door Project

Seven black actors will perform monologues featuring true stories of how institutional profiling affects African-Americans this weekend at Oregon State University.

The Corvallis/Albany NAACP is sponsoring the production, called "Hands Up," which is visiting from Portland. Community members have two opportunities to see the show, which will take place Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon on the Withycombe Hall Main Stage, 2901 SW Campus Way.

The event, which is being funded by the NAACP and the King Legacy Advisory Board, is free and open to the public. Tickets may be reserved ahead of time at http://reddoorproject.org/hands-up#tickets.

"Hands Up" was created following the police shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Ohio, as well as others. The New Black Fest in Brooklyn, New York, commissioned seven black playwrights to write 10-15 minute monologues that explore their feelings about the well-being of blacks in a culture of institutional profiling. The show premiered in 2015 in Philadelphia.

The August Wilson Red Door Project in Portland has been putting on a production of "Hands Up" since early 2016. When a member of the local NAACP heard about the show this year and shared it with the organization, the group’s executive committee traveled to Portland to see it, said Senior Vice President Shelley Moon.

“It was so in alignment with what we do at the NAACP and who we are,” she said. “Because this is about healing. We’re about building relationships and building community wherever we can.”

Moon said the show is meant to bring the African American and law enforcement communities together in healing, not to polarize them further.

“You will not leave the performance untouched, I can promise you that,” she said. “And you will have supported the efforts of coming together. You will do your part in the community by showing up and actually participating in this experience and then taking that out further into your own personal community.”

Frederick J. Edwards, president of the local NAACP branch, said he is inviting Corvallis Police Chief Jon Sassaman to see the show.

“All of us are going to have to be in this to make it work,” Edwards said. “Believe me, I know a lot about (law enforcement). These guys are human. They’re under intense pressure and it’s not easy. It’s not fun. I would never want to have that responsibility. But I can quickly wrestle with him, ‘Hey, you did that wrong.’ But I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. That’s where this comes in.”

Moon said she was moved to tears by the performance. One monologue that resonated with her was a woman talking about a domestic disturbance with her white boyfriend. The police arrived and arrested the woman and took her to jail, where she feared for her life.

“It’s not just a production, it’s an experience,” Moon said. “You will feel lots of feelings.”

Kevin Jones, director of the Portland production of "Hands Up," said assumptions about what the show is about may keep some people away. But, he said media often generalizes issues regarding African-Americans, whereas the monologues speak to the diversity of experiences among African- Americans when it comes to police profiling.

“It’s really an opportunity for healing because so much of this stuff we keep to ourselves,” Jones said. “We don’t share it with one another.”

He said the show premiered in Portland in April 2016 with an audience of 25 people. By the end of a six-show tour, the production was selling out. Several organizations stepped up to fund more performances of "Hands Up." Now, about 10,000 people have seen the show, Jones said.

Following each performance, Jones and Lesli Mones, the founders of the August Wilson Red Door Project, facilitate a “talkback” session with the audience. It allows playgoers to express how the show impacted them.

“People just shared an ‘Amen, this is my experience,’” Moon said. “’Thank you for sharing your experience with us because it makes me feel more validated. It makes me feel like I am being seen and I am being heard, and that’s important.’”

Edwards said there were audience members who expressed surprise over the playwrights’ experiences.

“Understanding comes by listening,” he said. “It’s just so touching.”

Lillian Schrock covers public safety for the Gazette-Times. She may be reached at 541-758-9548 or lillian.schrock@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at @LillieSchrock. 

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