March 2020 -Against the Canon: Urdu Feminist Writing

Tuesday, March 3, 2020


Photo Credit- Joanna Austin
 I came to see the play, Renaissance in the Belly of a Killer Whale, running now through March 7 at the Wilma Theater, not as a theatre critic-which I am not-but as an aging African-American resident of a neighborhood that is rapidly changing. Mine is a neighborhood changing in ways that will seemingly guarantee the erasure of my community and its collective history.  I came dejected and cynical.
   But in deft hands of director Jaylene Clark Owens, who also wrote and performs in this multilayered performance piece, along with co-creators Hollis Heath and Janelle Heatley, Renaissance in the Belly of a Killer Whale delivers what art should; brazen commentary laced with lots of hope. This trifecta of masterful actresses takes the audience on a journey through time and a changing Harlem, which could easily be so many Philadelphia neighborhoods. And on this adventure through dance battles, song, old school hand games and rhymes and powerful spoken word, the central characters asks of themselves and of us- how do we, as longstanding communities, in transition, against great economic pressures, preserve what we have known and love. Difficult questions are raised and explored with joy and fierce honesty.

   Although Killer Whale is a personal love letter to Harlem, so many people who are not from Harlem have said they can relate to it because it reminds them of their neighborhood, their sense of community, their childhood memories," said Owens, a member of the Wilma HotHouse acting company and this year’s winner of the F. Otto Haas Barrymore Award for an Emerging Philadelphia Theatre Artist.

  The show originated after Owens posted on Facebook about the burgeoning gentrification of Harlem in 2010. “Harlem is looking more and more like the belly of a killer whale,” she wrote. A former teacher encouraged her to expand the post into a spoken word play. 

Renaissance in the Belly of a Killer Whale has since received dozens of presentations, most recently a successful limited engagement at Theater Horizon. “I love how these three women bring their humor, energy, and sarcasm into a very serious subject that every city, particularly Philadelphia, is grappling with,” Wilma Theater Artistic Director Blanka Zizka.

   In addition to the public performances, the Wilma will host four student matinees of Renaissance in the Belly of a Killer Whale, reaching hundreds of students at Philadelphia public high schools. Many of these students will go on to create their own original works in response to the show through Wilmagination, the Wilma’s school residency program.  

Extended by popular demand!
February 26-March 7, 2020
Wilma Theater
265 S. Broad Street (Broad &Spruce Streets)
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Box Office: 215-546-7824

*Chyann Sapp is also a co-creator of this project.

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