Daniel Beaty Plays 43 Roles in ‘Emergency’

Daniel Beaty (Photo by Lelund Durond Thompson via BK Reader)

In “Emergency,” the Obie Award-winning play, “a slave ship rises in front of the Statue of Liberty in present-day New York City, sending the city into a frenzy as the people try to understand this bizarre and unexplainable phenomenon,” writes BK Reader’s Andrea Leonhardt. She interviews Daniel Beaty, the writer and actor behind the one-person show. In “Emergency,” he plays 43 roles with the intent of portraying how people share a common humanity and as a commentary on life for African Americans. He performs the show at the Kumble Theater on Feb. 17 and 18.

BKR: You are an artist who wears many different hats: You’re a writer, an actor, a poet – you even sang opera in Europe – and you’re an activist, too. How do you manage all these different roles?

DB: For me, it’s all about storytelling. My purpose is always the same: It is to give voice to the voiceless and to tell stories that inspire us to transform pain into power. That pain can be the legacy of brokenness in this country like the legacy of slavery, continual racism and the lack of equity that plagues our country. That pain can also be the personal trauma that people experience from family issues or broken dreams. I believe that the arts and entertainment, whether it is a play, a book or movie, a curriculum I am creating or social justice activism that I am doing, it is all going after the same gain: How do we tell a story that’s going to cause people to feel a little bit freer and to cause those of us who do not have sufficient voice to have more voice.


BKR: There may be an obvious reason why you chose the setting of the play, the Statue of Liberty and NYC. Can you elaborate a little further?

DB: Well, I thought it was obvious – but people perceive in different ways. For me, slavery is the time of greatest bondage in our nation’s history. And the Statue of Liberty is the greatest symbol of freedom in our country. So, a slave ship in front of the Statue of Liberty asks the question: What stands in front of our freedom? And that’s what all the characters in the play are wrestling with. What stands in front of their freedom: Their freedom to love, to be fully themselves, to believe in their dreams – their freedom to be greater than the pain of their past. They all fight to be free from something.

Read the full interview – in which Beaty speaks of family experiences that influenced his work and why he continues to perform “Emergency” more than 10 years after its debut – at BK Reader.

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