The question of art’s ability to inflict social change is as old as the various art forms. Poets, painters, and play writers have long pondered, “What, if anything, happens after the applause? Are my words merely seen as ‘good art’ by the masses, or will my message help to galvanize the people?” This is the type of question that Rosiland Cauthen has been asking herself for the past two years. Rosiland Cauthen, a native of the Carolinas, moved to Baltimore, eight years ago, in pursuit of her MFA in Theater from Towson State University. Rosiland immediately fell in love with Baltimore’s energy and people, and decided to make it her home. While studying at Towson she noticed that there was a lack of plays being performed that depicted the black experience. Looking to fill this void Rosiland rallied the support of her fellow students. Together they decided “let’s do it for ourselves”, and created the Kuumba Artists. Even after graduating from Towson Rosiland, who continues to teach theater at the university part-time, and her company continues to put on two to three productions a year. The latest Kuumba Artist production
“We Are Crying Out” debuted on February 26, 2010 at Baltimore Theater Project.
Set in Baltimore City, “We Are Crying Out” is a gritty work that explores the violence and murder occurring daily, and how it impacts those around it. Inspired by the violent summer of 2009, and her two year experience as a reader in The Carrot Theater’s public reading of Anna Ditkoff’s “Murder Ink” Rosiland began thinking of what more she could do. “What am I going to do in my own work to challenge the status quo, that can reach out to people and make them think about the decision they make when it comes to violence?” “We Are Crying Out” is masterfully woven together using poetry, dance, song, and the chilling reading of the names of those slain Baltimore-ans to hit home the severity of the situation. The piece opens with a mother mourning her son, and experiencing the grief, shame, and regret tied to having him fall victim to drug violence. We would later learn that, like most young black men who are murdered, not only was “Lil Dee” someone’s son, but he was soon to become someone’s father. Rosiland, a mother of two, makes it a point to show how this violence is affecting the children; youth that have the misfortune of having to witness their friends lose their lives. In a scene that will send chills throughout your body, Rosiland shows children, playing catch, jumping rope, and playing tag, who eventually are gunned down. There is an instance in the work that is especially meaningful to me in which the girlfriends and baby’s mother’s express the roles they play as “warriors”, and the trade offs for their devotion. The women eventually realize that what they sacrifice is much more than they had initially thought. This was a meaningful moment for me because I have six sisters who all at some point have had to deal with a partner or baby’s father behind bars, or who engaged in behavior that would place him there. Furthermore, in 2000 I lost my brother Larry L. Walker Jr. to senseless gun violence. I know how it feels to cry out in the name of a lost loved one.
“We Are Crying Out” acts as a window allowing the audience to view common paradigms of the black urban American experience. Rosiland crafted a work that so closely resembled “real life” that one could feel the audience’s visceral connection to the characters and their plights. Following the production Rosiland engaged the audience in a question and answer where Baltimore-ans got to say how they felt about the play and the situation that plagues the city. The consensus was that Roseland’s work succeeded at provoking the thought and disease that is necessary to motivate people into action. So’ as for that age old question of art’s efficacy. The response to “We Are Crying Out” has been tremendous, so much so that Rosiland has been invited to perform it at schools, theaters, even prisons; which she plans to do after fine-tuning the work a bit. So, I would conclude that “We Are Crying Out” was effective. Yet, this is merely the beginning, the more people to see it means more dialogues started, thus more lives changed and hopefully saved.
Thanks for caring Rosiland, and thanks for choosing Baltimore.