by Georgia S. McDade
Amontaine Aurore. This multitalented woman is making a name for herself. She is a writer, actor, director, performance artist, and founder of Ten Auras Productions. When there were no roles for her to play, she wrote one-woman shows in which she starred: Waiting for Billie Holiday (2006), My Name Is Trazar (2007), Queen Rita’s Blues Alley (2008) ,and Free Desiree, (2012), all directed by Tikka Sears.
Her plays have been performed in Seattle, New York, and Edinburgh, Scotland, at such establishments and sites as On the Boards, West of Lenin, 18th and Union Theatre, Orcas Center, Theatre Battery (Kent), the Neptune (University District), New York’s 59E59 Theatre, the United Solo Theatre Festival, the New York Fringe, the Edinburgh Fringe.
Her list of awards is almost as long: Indie Theater Now (one of the Best New Plays of the Festival), finalist in the 2017 Bay Area Playwrights’ Festival, finalist for the 2019 Emerald Prize, a biennial playwriting award presented by Seattle Public Theatre. Grants include Artist Trust, Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, 4Culture, the Puffin Foundation, and the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). Being twice selected as writer-in-residence at the Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat for Women is a career highlight.
Now Aurore’s work returns to the Seattle stage with her award-winning Don’t Call It a Riot. Because the play was read and previously performed numerous times at two other sites between 2016 and 2018, the Seattle audience gets the pleasure of seeing Riot at its best. Using the backdrop of the Seattle Panther Party of 1968 and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999, Aurore connects the periods and reveals truths worth informed citizens examining. Riot presents the human side of some of the men and women members of the history-making grassroots Panther group.
The play is filled with tidbits of Seattle Panther history that many audience members may not know. Panthers provided free breakfasts and schools for children, a free sickle-cell-anemia testing program, free ambulance service, free shoes, a program that took people to prisons to visit their incarcerated loved ones, a summer school, and a health care clinic. The 51-year-old Carolyn Downs Family Medical Center in Seattle continues to serve the community.
No one should forget Panthers’ protesting the murder of African Americans. The emphasis is on the lives of characters involved in this action. By the time the play ends, we will have traveled 31 years to the activism of the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999.
Aurore became aware of the WTO in 1999 shortly before the protest took place. A friend of one of the organizers, she learned some persons had traveled from Nigeria for the protest and thus its importance and necessity. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) played a key role in the Battle of Seattle that caught many by surprise. An estimated 50,000 people arrived from around the world, including persons arguing for labor movements, human, consumer, and student rights, environmental groups, media activists, ever-present enemies of capitalism, etc. The event raised the conscience of the young Aurore, like consciences of many Seattleites at the time. What did the WTO want? What policies could the protestors so massively and vehemently oppose?
As if Aurore did not have enough to present in Don’t Call It A Riot, she heard about a group of Franklin High School students with assistance from five adults constructing a 40-foot mural to honor the Panthers. “An estimated 25 students collaborated on the project with former members of Seattle’s Black Panther Party, including Elmer Dixon, Aaron Dixon, Leonard Dawson, Mike Tagawa, Garry Owens, Rosita Thomas, and Vanetta Molson,” said Lauren Holloway, co-adviser of Franklin’s Art of Resistance & Resilience Club. “In January, Elmer Dixon and Garry Owens led a community forum so original founders and members of the local Panthers could help inform the history, imagery, and narrative of the artwork.”
It did not take long for the Aurore to invite the Club to assist with the set design for Don’t Call It a Riot. Now fulfilling one of Aurore’s goals, the community was involved in producing her play.
“The club was initially an after-school pilot art class that I started in March of 2017 in response to the presidential inauguration, which I saw as a call to action to invest in the youth of my Franklin community more by offering them the resources to make empowering and bold community-based art projects that promote social and environmental justice,” said Holloway. “My vision was and continues to be to provide a safe and supportive space for any students who are feeling adversely affected by the new administration and other societal and environmental factors so they can come together and transform feelings such as anger, fear, and despair into art that speaks truth to power, collaboratively create art that offers a vision of a better and more just city and world, and further develop their leadership, team building, and fundraising skills. At the end of that school year, the students decided to turn the art class into an official school club, and I gladly obliged as their teaching artist and now club advisor.”
Students Alina Fowler and Austin Bryant consider the Club an excellent place to learn to be the active citizens in demand today; they are not allies only but accomplices in the work that needs to be done.
What you know now is this: a woman who chooses to control her narrative by writing plays has created a piece that presents information about family, the Black Panthers, and the World Trade Organization. It is Amontaine Aurore’s hope that Don’t Call It a Riot will get more people talking, thinking, and researching parts of our history that they may not have known or want to know more about. Opening up conversation about where we have been and where we are going to move us along in creating and sustaining a more just and equitable existence for all of us is the best and highest goal of this play.”
Co-produced by Ten Auras Productions and Trial and Error Productions, Aurore’s directorial debut Don’t Call It a Riot includes Meysha Harville as Reed, Lillian Afful-Straton as Marti, Skylar Wilkerson as Falala, Mic Montgomery as Sam, and Robert Lovett as Paris.
Don’t Call It a Riot can be seen May 30 to June 23 at 12th Avenue Arts Theater, 1620 12th Avenue on Capitol Hill. Tickets can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets. For a full show schedule and additional information, please visit dontcallitariot.com or call 206-999-9293.
Featured Image: Students at Franklin High School’s Art of Resistance & Resilience Club created backdrops for the set of Don’t Call It A Riot. (Photo: Lauren Holloway)