On May 8th, 2003, Profiles and Shadows, a play with music aimed to stimulate conversation and personal reflection on the practice of profiling, that I was performing in opened at Rites and Reason Theatre in Providence. There were 11 performances over three weekends May 8th-25th, 2003
The cast included Janell Baptista, Shanna Bowie, Ruth Cadet, Marsian De Lellis, Sherita Delgado, Blake Driver, Theodore Fleming, La Shundra Hicks, Maceo June, Adam King, Jose A. Lora, Sharon Mulligan, Albert Omijie, Alex Pudlin, Sylvia Ann Soares, Darren Walker, and Shannon Ware.
Books and lyrics by Elmo Terry-Morgan
Music and arrangements by Clarice Laverne Thompson
Scenic/lighting design by Alonzo T. Jones
Costume design by Kath Whelan
Musical director Charles Cofone
Keyboards Lon Plynton
Production manager Jennifer Rossi
Stage manager Luis Pagan
Stage manager Brianna Larkin
Videographer / production assistant Shaunne Thomas
Production dramaturg/set dressing Steven Pennell
Videographer Michael Matthews
Directors Judith Swift and Marsha Z. West
Producer Karen Allen Baxter
Profiles and Shadows, a Journey of Many
by Elm Terry-Morgan, playwright and artistic director:
The intent of Profiles and Shadows is to stimulate conversation and personal reflection on the practice of profiling. My intention as playwright was not to provide a 12-step guide to ending it because I do not have the answer. What I strongly feel is we all profile other humans in some way. Some keep their feelings to themselves; others express it in seemingly benign behavior, and others express it in particularly virulent and hateful ways. What is clear to me is the practice is age-old and human evolution has not rooted it out of our systems. Simply, we do not trust each other. Wether expressed by following a person around a store, a traffic stop, clutching a purse, making a policy, beating up a person, killing another human being because that person looked a certain way, spoke a certain way or seemed a certain way that motivations for the actions all come from the same space, fear – whether rational or not.
Weeks after the Kornel Young incident happened, Steven Pennel, Rites and Reason’s archivist, came to me and suggested that we do a Research-to-Performance Method (RPM) play on profiling. I thought the idea was interesting but I didn’t know what to do with it at the time. Korney Young was a Black man and an officer on the Providence Police force. Whole off duty, he responded to an incident at a local restaurant. Two White police officers came to the scene. Officer Young was killed by one or both of the White officer. Providence was in an uproar. Accusations of racial profiling were made by many angry and grieving residents in the news. Of particular interest was local and state police officers routinely selecting Black-loking drivers, pulling them over, and questioning them and inspecting their vehicles to determine the extent of this practice of racial profiling. I told Steven that we would do the profiling project if we could develop a play that would go beyond the obvious I felt that sensitivity training courses were doing little good and that data on racial profiling incidents merely documented the fact and did nothing to stop it.
Intuitively I felt the causes for this practice were internal, within each individual. Thus in early 2001, I began pondering this phenomenon. I came up with 3 types of profilers: (1) Official Profilers: Persons and systems of authority that pre-judge and select a group of people for selective treatment based upon perceptions of suspected behavior, (2) Shadow Profilers: Usual victims of Official Profiling who engage in the same behavior towards other groups of people, but do not perceive their actions to be profiling, and (3) Self-Profilers: People who are particularly victimized by profiling and believe that nothing they do will ever change how others perceive them so they engage in activities that perpetuate what profilers think of them, i.e., Provide the profiler with further justification to profile them.
One of my students, Craig Sutthammnont, ’01, was interested in this issue. I invited him to do an independent study, conducting research on the topic, with Steven Pennell and me. I charged Craig with writing a play that explored the issue form the internal to the external. He crafted a one-character play that metaphorically situated the individual as the only player on the stage, the star, with an ever-present spotlight on self, where all others were simply props. Craig showed that it was possible to explore profiling from the internal to the external.
During that summer, Kohei Ishihara, ’03, picked up the project. His research was sponsored by the Office of the Dean of the College through its Summer Odyssey/UTRA (Undergraduate Teaching and Research Assistant) program. Kohei assembled a focus group of community organizations that met at Churchill House. They discussed profiling from various points of view. This information added to the research base. In the fall of 2001 research materials and findings from the efforts of Steve, Craig, Kohei and the focus group were turned over to Visiting Assistant Professor Shanga Parker, ’88, and his class. The mission of Professor Parker’s seminar was to explore manifestations of profiling beyond race. Students volunteered at community organizations associated with their domains of profiling, and scripted monologues based upon their raw research. Professor Parker shaped them into a cohesive presentation, and directed them in a public performance at Rites and Reason. The Profiles and Shadows seminar showed that it was possible to expand the conversation beyond race.
My job, now, was to craft a play that could tour community venues in Rhode Island. The challenges: How to present an issue with so many complexities in an understandable way. How to do it in less than 90 minutes. How to reach every demographic possible. And, how to make such an ugly topic entertaining. I almost gave up. But with so many people’s energies and time involved, and the importance of trying to deal with the profiling phenomenon at stake, I gave it over into the Hands of God.
At this point another angel came to me, Maya Breuer, my yoga teacher. Guided by Maya, I began to explore the ancient Hindu teachings upon which the practice of yoga is based. I learned may concepts that provided theories for why humans persist in their cycle of pain, creating it and feeling it. Two of these concepts are Advidya and Vdya. Envision a tree with deep roots and four main branches, about it the sky. Advidya is incorrect comprehension. It emanates from the roots. From this cloudy muddied, vision comes: Raga: Craving things not yours, Dvesa: Rejecting things different, Abhinivesa: Fearing self-inadequacey, and Asmita: Ego feeling superior to others. The goal is to reach Vidya, correct understanding, that which exists in light and clarity about and beyond the 4 manifestations of Advidya. This concept became the organizing metaphor for the play. The issue is complex and simple. It is old and new. It is internal and external. The thrust to change the decision to do so comes from internal explorations. The decision to do so comes from external stimulae. If but one person takes the stand to investigate one’s internal Universe for the purpose of practicing Love in the external Universe then we will have done our job well. If not then we will keep trying and trying to reach Vidya.
For those who know the works of George Houston Bass, at times, I felt that I was channeling his energy. George, I hope we have served your vision well.
Love, Om, Shanti (Peace),