Against the backdrop of historical moments of social change, Walk With Me, a documentary by Tanisha Christie and Ellie Walton, follows three women, including Lisa Biggs, who use theater to inspire, stir and animate our democracy. While at work in prisons, schools, and community centers, the film reveals that one person – one artist – can make a difference.
Run time: 1 hour, 11 minutes
Available on Hulu and Amazon!
8 min excerpt: https://vimeo.com/86941120
On a cold winter night in 1831, the ghost of a formerly enslaved Black woman possessed Abby Kelley, an Irish Quaker farm girl from rural Massachusetts. The ghost would drive Kelley for the next 35 years to become one of the leading anti-slavery activists of her time. Weaving together historical speeches with period song and dance, WHERE SPIRIT RIDES tells the haunting true story of these two women – one living, one dead — who struggled for the abolitionist cause across the bitter, and at times absurd landscape of antebellum America, and won.
A solo theatre/dance work devised and performed by Lisa Biggs
75 minutes, no intermission. Adult content, suitable for mature audiences only.
Photo credit: Paul Sisson
Black Women and Violence Film Series (2016)
The film series emerges in response to the brutal, high profile police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, and other unarmed African American men and boys that have enraged and galvanized communities across the U.S. and around the world to call for change. Within this call to action, the destructive impact of unjust policing on women and girls has been largely overlooked. The result is inadequate analysis of the broad spectrum of harm caused by the current models of policing and reduced opportunities to develop comprehensive and effective solutions.
The Matter is Life: Black Women and Violence Film Series seeks to educate students and the wider Lansing community about the unequal treatment of women by the law, and engage them in critical and creative organizing to mobilize for change. Workshops, seminars and opportunities to attend and participate in experiential learning opportunities (films, plays) will educate students, faculty, staff, local and national stakeholders about the importance of incorporating a gendered as well as a racialized analytical lens on the problem of policing and law enforcement.
Co-directed by Lisa Biggs and Terrion Williamson, with assistance from graduate coordinator Kris Rowe.
CRIME AFTER CRIME
January 29, 2016
TREASURE: FROM TRAGEDY TO TRANSJUSTICE -- MAPPING A DETROIT STORY
With workshops with filmmaker dream hampton and activist Emani Love (March 2016)
OUT IN THE NIGHT
Thursday, April 21
In conjunction with the MSU Film Collective
B122 Wells Hall, MSU, 619 Red Cedar, East Lansing, MI
Renata, Patreese, Verniece and Terrain were walking in the gay-friendly West Village neighborhood in New York City when an older man sexually and violently confronted them. Strangers jumped in to defend the women, who were all Black lesbians, but the fight escalated. As it came to an end, all got up and walked away. But 911 had been called and the man involved had a puncture wound from a knife Patreese used to defend herself and the others. Police swarmed to the scene as their radios blasted out warning of a gang attack. The women were rounded up and charged with gang assault, assault and attempted murder. Through the lives of these four young women, Out in the Night reveals how their race, gender identity and sexuality became criminalized in the mainstream news media and criminal legal system.
In 1967, Robert Alexander founded the Living Stage Theatre Company, the engaged arts initiative at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. I had the honor of being a member of the ensemble from 1999-2001, under the direction of Oran Sandel. And it completely changed my life.
I had the opportunity to accompany Rhodessa Jones and Idris Ackamoor to South Africa (2009-2012). They were commissioned to build a new theatre piece with women confined to the Johannesburg Correctional Facility for Women. SERIOUS FUN AT SUN CITY, the piece they created, received rave reviews from local press and the guards. They allowed the work to tour for performances at the State Theatre in Pretoria, which was like working at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. In this photo, the cast rehearses at lift in the hours leading up to the show. Photo credit: Royal Takalane Mudau
In May 2016 I began offering drama workshops at two correctional facilities in Michigan -- the Ingham County jail in Mason where I worked with women inmates, and the Richard A. Handlon MTU in Ionia where I work with men prisoners. In March, 2017 men at Ionia performed their first production, a new work devised through a participatory theatre process -- "Only the Blind Can See." This story about the problems of rushing to judgement begins when a young African American teen is found lying in the street. "Audience members described the play as "disciplined and heartfelt," "40 minutes of great entertainment," and "brilliantly done." Here's the one and only review, written by cast member Efren Paredes Jr: Click
A stage reading at Michigan State University and the Universalist Unitarian Church of Greater Lansing, with students, faculty and members of the community (October 15 & 18, 2015).
In the early 1970s, Maurice Henry Carter was wrongfully convicted of shooting a Benton Harbor, MI, policeman, and sentenced to life in prison. Nearly 20 years later, an unlikely ally would join his fight for freedom -- Doug Tjapkes, a former journalist and church organ salesman. Together, the two would fight to secure Carter's freedom, forging an unlikely friendship -- and brotherhood -- along the way.
Featured on WKAR Radio: http://wkar.org/post/story-mi-wrongful-conviction-takes-stage-east-lansing#stream/0
"It is one thing to read news reports about Louisiana's flawed justice system and quite another to hear formerly incarcerated women recount personal stories about lengthy sentences and the lasting impacts on their lives. In a program at Catapult marking ArtSpot Productions' 20th anniversary, Kathy Randels and former members of the drama club at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women at St. Gabriel kept the audience spellbound with poignant and courageous accounts of lives changed by incarceration... The final act featured performance artist Lisa Biggs dancing a hypnotic Electric Slide while calculating the explosive growth of women in prison" - Mary Rickard, The NOLA Gambit
I was honored to join Kathy Randels, Ausettua AmorAmenkum and The Graduates, an ensemble of formerly incarcerated women theatre artists, over Memorial Day Weekend 2016 for this important commemoration and call to action.
To lay the ground for future research, in the fall I was invited to become a principal investigator on a Global Midwest - Humanities Without Walls grant submitted by Holly Hughes (University of Michigan). In December, the University of Illinois generously funded our proposal in the amount of $80,000 over the next two years (2015-2017). “Performing Midwest” bridges six universities, uniting students and faculty members around three artistic initiatives that challenge the stereotype of the Midwest as a homogeneous monoculture. In July 2015, I performed in an excerpt of Deke Weaver’s Tiger at the University of Michigan Duderstadt Arts Center, amongst other funess.
In the parking lot of a Washington, DC, Chinese take-out restaurant, 17-year-old Kim, a burgeoning graffiti artist, relates the short life, fast loves, and sudden passing of her older brother to gun violence.
Based on interviews with DC residents and archival research, VIGILANTE.ARTIST. encourages engagements between survivors and perpetrators of street violence. The piece attempts to complicate contemporary discussions about victims and perpetrators, questioning what motivates those who defend themselves with lethal force, and how the conflicts that ignite these public acts of justice might be resolved otherwise.
Developed under the guidance of Rebecca Rice for the Southwest Project at Arena Stage, VIGILANTE.ARTIST. is a solo theatre piece based on oral histories of DC residents in the Southwest quadrant of the city.
Written by Charles L. Mee. Directed by Howard Shalwitz. Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Washington DC (2002)
"Charles L. Mee's play takes as its source material Aeschylus's "The Suppliant Maidens," which dates from 490 B.C. and is believed to be the oldest surviving Greek drama... "Maidens" was the first part of a trilogy -- the other plays have been lost -- and, in fact, nothing much happens in it: The 50 daughters of Danaus flee from Egypt to Argos to escape forced marriage to their 50 cousins... Biggs has some terrific comic moments as the weak sister who, in her heart, would choose pleasure over principle"
Written by Thomas Gibbons. Directed by Jennifer Nelson. Theatre of the First Amendment, Washington DC (2001)
"Under the direction of Jennifer L. Nelson... Bee-Luther-Hatchee gets a crackerjack production"
Directed by Jennifer Nelson for the African Continuum Theatre Company (ACT CO), Washington, DC. This production was staged on the 2nd floor of Living Stage at 14th and T, NW. It featured Jefferson Russell and Willette Thompson.
Conceived, written and directed by Rebecca Rice. Arena Stage, Washington, DC (2001)
Alleys and Pathways: The Southwest DC Project was an oral history-based performance work by playwright Rebecca Rice. It was produced at Arena Stage with the support of a $20,000 grant from the MAP Fund.
Directed by Rebecca Rice featuring Oran Sandel, Tanisha Christie, Lisa Biggs and Psalm 24. Music by Rick Massey. Living Stage/Arena Stage, Washington DC (1999)
... of One Short-Sighted Black Woman vs. Mammie Louise and Safreeta Mae
Written by Marcia L. Leslie. Directed by Paul Carter Harrison. ETA Creative Arts Foundation, Chicago, IL (1995)
The "Pick" of ETA's Season, featuring Lisa Biggs in the lead role as Victoria.
"Look for Lisa Biggs's seven-cyclone SWAMP WOMAN to take some trophies come awards time" -- The Reader (3/23/1995)
Faith Cross's quest for the Good Thing takes her from the swampy backwoods of Georgia to the cold, hard streets of Chicago. Along the way, she encounters Hoodoos, Haints and Headaches in a wild mix of folk magic, social satire and outrageous comedy. Her strength and perseverance in the face of extraordinary trails and tribulations provide a spiritually-grounded message of hope for all who struggle to keep body and soul together.
From the novel by Charles Johnson; Adapted by Keli Garrett; Directed by Frank Pullen
with Lydia Diamond as Faith and Lisa Biggs as Swamp Woman
Founded in 1988 by graduates of Northwestern University, Lookingglass Theatre Company is a nationwide leader in the creation and presentation of new, cutting-edge theatrical works and in sharing its ensemble-based theatrical techniques with Chicago-area students and teachers through Education and Community Programs. Guided by an artistic vision centered on the core values of collaboration, transformation, and invention, Lookingglass seeks to capture audiences’ imaginations leaving them changed, charged and empowered.
Recipient of the 2011 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, Lookingglass has built a national reputation for artistic excellence and ensemble-based theatrical innovation. Notable world premieres include Mary Zimmerman’s Tony Award-winning Metamorphoses, The Arabian Nights, and The Odyssey, David Schwimmer’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Studs Terkel’s Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel about the American Obsession, and David Catlin’s circus tribute to Lewis Carroll, Lookingglass Alice. Lookingglass’ work has been produced in more than a dozen US cities.
EYE PLUS ONE was an evening of short, experimental works by ensemble members that appeared in conjunction with Laura Eason's IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER. I appeared in MY LIFE IN POP, written and directed by Joy Gregory at the Live Bait Theatre, Chicago, IL (July 1993)
Curated by Kantara Suffrant, in the Annie May Swift Studio, Department of Performance Studies, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL (April 2014).
This page is offered in loving memory of Alan Shefsky (1959-2014), poet and dedicated Northwestern University Performance Studies Department employee, and friend to many a graduate student.
"Shefsky was a poet with his works published in many literary journals and performed at a number of venues in Chicago. He is the author of Amelia Absent, Amelia Present (Clay Springs Press, 1995) and What Emily, “a playful, inquiring romp into the inner life and poetical line of Emily Dickinson” (Magnolia Press Collective, 2011). His last collection of poems, Glee (Magnolia Press, 2012), was written before, during, and after Shefsky’s diagnosis with a glioblastoma brain tumor."
A tumor in the brain
is fine I say to the nurse,
It’s like having a new house with
A view of the universe.
The little girl asks
The little girl asks “How can he stand?”
She means on my feet.
“It’s not so bad,” I say. I mean It’s not so easy.
It’s not so sad.
It’s okay don’t cry, says the little girl, walking by.
Cepheus Miles grew up on a farm in rural South Carolina, where he was content to work the land. When the Vietnam War comes along, he refuses to serve, is imprisoned and looses his land. The prospect of a new job -- a slinky new girlfriend -- and life in the big city proves exciting. But when urban realities triumph, Cepheus is forced to take a good hard look at himself. Eventually, he finds his way HOME.
Written by Samm-Art Williams; Directed by Phillip Van Lear
Featuring Lisa Biggs, Linda Bright Clay and Freeman Coffee
About the Chicago Theatre Company: Community-based African-American theater groups are few and far between. The Chicago Theatre Company (CTC) was such a rare gem. Located in the Parkway Community Center, a Hull House affiliate, the theater group produced three plays a year. Past successes included "Pill Hill"; the sardonic spoof "The Little Tommy Parker Celebrated Colored Minstrel Show"; "Train Is Comin'," the saga of the a cappella Fisk Jubilee Singers; and "A Red Death," a film noir-style thriller by Walter Mosley (author of "Devil in a Blue Dress"); Leslie Lee's powerful "Sundown Names and Night-Done Things" (a look at struggling insurance company workers in the 1930s); Gavin Lawrence's funny "Cut Flowers" (about a bunch of guys working as florists in the 1990s); and Don Wilson Glenn's "American Menu," about the travails of female kitchen workers in a segregated Texas diner in spring 1968.