As new members of our Chatham County community, Chatham Park is powering our Go See This series this year because art is an integral part of Chatham County’s identity. They join us in inviting you to Go See This . . .
There have been many theater productions with large casts and big productions with the power to sweep you up into the topic or era they’re portraying–Cabaret, Hamilton, Rent. But there’s something truly compelling and uniquely powerful about a solo show, particularly about a topic that is so important, so intensely emotional. The Talk, a production starring Sonny Kelly, produced by Elisabeth Lewis Corley and directed by Joseph Megel, was that just that kind of solo show when it had its run in 2019 in Durham and Chapel Hill, in a co-production from StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance of Pittsboro and Bulldog Ensemble Theater in Downtown Durham. We now have a special opportunity to watch a recorded version of The Talk, available on The Piedmont Performance Factory’s website until July 10, and share it with our friends and neighbors as we all continue vital conversations about race in our society.
Sonny Kelly, the writer and star of the show, started out writing The Talk for a class he was taking with UNC Chapel Hill Artist-in-Residence, Joseph Megel, who later directed the show.
“The Talk was born out of a painful conversation that I had to have with my son Sterling upon confronting the fact that he faces a world that condones and enacts violence against Black bodies like his. It took me a week or two after having this short, awkward conversation to digest the anguish that it caused me. The result was “Sterling’s Story,” an 8-10 minute narrative about my love for my son and the despair that I felt in having to inform him that he lived in a world where some people—important people who wield the power to harm him—would not value his life as I did. When I learned that “Sterling’s Story” was part of a larger phenomenon known as “The Talk,” I knew that I had to do more with this story.”
Joseph Megel knew he had something special on his hands when he heard Sonny perform the ten-minute version of the story in class.
“I knew it could be a complete piece, so in that class, I encouraged him to make it into a full-length piece. It was so moving and so connected to his love of his son. Many people don’t know what it’s like to have to have a talk about what it takes to be safe in the country you live in because of the color of your skin.”
Sonny felt strongly that a panel discussion should be held after each performance to engage the audience and talk more about race in today’s society. Each panel had different speakers brought in from the community, and the discussion each night brought out different reactions from the audience.
“Sonny had the truly inspired idea to have a talkback or panel discussion with the audience after every performance. He built the show around that idea,” notes producer Elisabeth Lewis Corley. “We brought in people from all parts of the community for the panels, including law enforcement, individuals who had had their own run-ins with the police, activists, scholars, and community leaders.”
In many ways, the talk-back after the show was part of the show itself. “The conversations with both the panels and the audiences were very rich, and in some ways, were the other half of the performance,” notes director Joseph Megel. “The conversation is what it’s about, right? Sonny really wanted each performance to have a talk-back to create conversation; it was really important to him. For Sonny, this is all about his activism as well. There were some beautifully surprising moments and some heartbreaking moments in the talk-backs, too. We had all the range of emotions you could imagine.”
The show received an overwhelming response when it ran last year, selling out in both Chapel Hill and Durham. “We had to turn people away both in Durham and in Chapel Hill, something that is anathema to me as a producer,” notes Corley. “Since we have released the archival video online, we have had a steady stream of messages and donations of support. It has been heartening to see that even in this time when we cannot gather in theatres, we can join in a theatrical conversation virtually, and in so doing expand the reach of Sonny’s voice, which seems to us pretty central to the wrenching—and long overdue—national discussion we are having at this moment.”
With the production now online, Sonny continues to receive requests for him to come perform the show for various groups and also continues to receive positive feedback.
“I have been pleasantly surprised with the popularity of the online video of the show. I know that people loved the live performance because hundreds of audience members have expressed how thrilled they were to learn and share with me and other audience members during and after the show. I have had several people reach out to me since the online release to express how profoundly this performance has touched them. Even virtually, they say that they feel connected to me. They can feel my love for my child, my ancestors, and elders, my God, and my country. It’s very gratifying because this show is born of love. It is a love story, to say the least. It transcends race, gender, religion, even my own life. My story, amazingly, becomes our story for those who sit and experience this performance. One woman told me that she tried to watch it online while multitasking but she simply could not take her eyes off the screen. That’s what I’m talking about! In this season, especially, we cannot afford to look away! This work matters!”
- What: The Talk, now available online
- When: June 12 – July 10
- Where: Available online on The Piedmont Performance Factory’s website
- Cost: Free
- For more information about the show: visit StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance and Bulldog Ensemble Theater
- For more information about Sonny Kelly: visit his website at www.sonnykelly.com