Berkeley on Party People: Tony Taccone
Prologue: from the Artistic Director

What is your image of the Black Panthers? Do you remember the Young Lords? How do these groups live in your mind, in our collective memory, in that immense collection of conflicting narratives that we call the annals of history? Do you remember their accomplishments or their failures? The fervent idealism that fueled the beginning of the movement, or the bitter cynicism in the aftermath of its tragic end? After all is said and done, what do you think is the legacy of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords?

These are the central questions and motivating forces behind Party People, a project that took years to research. Led by UNIVERSES, a trio of artists in fierce pursuit of personal and historical truth, countless interviews were conducted with scores of people affiliated with both groups. Being much younger than the people they were interviewing, UNIVERSES found themselves alternately amazed and surprised, elated and depressed. Many old wounds had not healed, some old rivalries remained intact, and memories were frequently fractured and painful. And yet, the breadth of vision was still inspiring, the goals worthy, and the accomplishments real. How to capture all that?

Enlisting the long-term guidance of director Liesl Tommy, they focused on creating a fictional dramatic situation set in the present that evokes scenes from the past. Relying on their unique performance skills that combine spoken word with a variety of musical idioms ranging from blues to jazz to salsa, the result is a singular theatrical experience that transmutes history into art. And the journey of the characters reflects the journey of the artists themselves: a generation trying to mine the experiences of their forebears, trying to understand the past as a way of living more fully in the present.

Party People was first developed and produced by our good friends at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We both admired that production and felt the play was ripe for a deeper investigation of both character and story. UNIVERSES were under no obligation to rewrite the play, but they have embraced the task with openness, rigor, and courage. Tonight you will see the results of these formidable efforts. Here in Berkeley, home of the Free Speech Movement and sister city to Oakland, where so much of the history of the Panthers was written. We hope that the play catalyzes your imagination, activates your spirit, and brokers some sense of solidarity as we all make our way into the uncertain future.

Tony Taccone
Prologue: from the Managing Director

When, in the middle of the 20th century, nonprofit theatres began to spring up in cities across the country, in places like Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Houston, and Washington, DC, they were founded by individuals who, while operating out of an individual sense of empowerment, were inspired by a remarkably consistent set of values. Almost all of those founders spoke of shaking off the yoke of New York’s artistic hegemony, of providing dignity of work to local theatre practitioners, and of the urgency to create work that spoke uniquely to their own communities.

The notion that stories might be unique to a community and might be uniquely valued by disparate communities was a genuinely new and thrilling idea and went hand in hand with the recognition that a classic might become new and might speak in a new and distinctive way to a particular community if told through the lens and experience of that locality.

It is in that spirit that we bring you Party People, a story that speaks with a particular resonance to the Bay Area. This is one of our stories and the telling of it is an act of communal remembering. Revisiting that time and place demands that each of us commit some time to considering what that moment, what these people, meant to us. Party People asks that we reconsider, in light of what we know now, what we thought then.

One of the pleasures of this kind of communal remembrance is the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues who share our passion for community. In this case, it is a real joy and privilege to work with our friends at the Oakland Museum of California. While their major exhibition commemorating the Black Panthers had long been scheduled for 2016, they agreed to jump-start some of their own research to work with us on this project.

And while our Berkeley Rep School of Theatre assiduously works to link our programming with their work in the public schools, this play has provided a particularly rich opportunity to link Bay Area children to an important local as well as national movement.

We’re grateful to UNIVERSES and to this dynamic group of artists who are so ardently committed toParty People for allowing us to speak so eloquently to our own Bay Area history.

Susan Medak
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