By Loren Niemi, co-playwright of “1967″
“1967” is political storytelling and we make no apologies for the fact of it. At its core it is about the summer of 1967, the year race riots provided the counterpoint to the “Summer of Love” and how that moment changed the trajectory of our lives.
We, 2Lorens (Howard Loren Lieberman and Loren Niemi), first did “1967” with Felix Hampton Brown at Mixed Blood Theater in the 2007 MN Fringe to mark the 40th anniversary of the summer of rage. What we offered were stories of coming to understand that the world we lived in as white men was built on other people’s suffering. It was a critic’s “best bet” and well received. At the time we believed that our witness to what happened and what we learned or failed to learn from it could prompt some reflections or discussion about race relations then and now.
In the decade since, the bloody fingerprints of institutional and structural racism continue to stain the American Dream.
With the 50th anniversary looming, Howard and I knew it was time to take another look at that pivotal year when the frustrations of marginalized communities all across the country boiled over into riots (or uprisings depending on your point of view) when the National Guard had to be sent in to restore order. This time around, we want to broaden our testimony and have asked Rose McGee to bring a Black female perspective to the performance. Rose also invited singer-songwriter Mari Harris into the mix to extend our performance musically and more theatrically, while not diminishing the stories as testimonies to difficult truths.
The arc of the show begins in 1966 with MLK’s march for housing equality in Chicago and ends in 1968 with his assassination. In between, we offer Black and White perspectives in a series of stories that are rooted both in then and now. If the past is prologue, our judgment is that many of the conditions that were present then, remain. The careless disregard for Black lives expressed not only in police shootings, but in the regular and systematic humiliations in traffic stops, in drug sentencing, or in criminalizing homelessness have been brought once more to the forefront by digital culture.
For Howard and myself, all of our shows are rooted in storytelling our lives and times. Many of our performances—55 Minutes of Sex, Drugs and Audience Participation or Kill All the Lawyers—are not overtly political in theme but because they draw heavily from our experience living and working on the cultural margins, are inherently political. The fact that we are not only entertaining, but also offering a testimony to a history that is not often shown was made clear to us when performing 55 Minutes in Baltimore, where we had young people ask us what websites would let them find out more about the events referenced in our stories.
Some shows, such as A Fool’s Errand, which we will be performing as a duo at the Indy Fringe after we conclude “1967” and our solo shows, Howard’s Death Camp Diaries and Welcome to My Bomb Shelter, and my Bad Brother: Religion and Politics in ‘69 are explicitly explorations of the intersection of our histories and political views. Our experience has brought us to an understanding that the principles and practice at the core of our work are political expressions, best made artful as well as truthful.
“1967″ stars Howard Loren Lieberman, Loren Niemi, Rose McGee, and singer-songwriter Mari Harris. Tickets are available here.
Howard Loren Lieberman is a former lawyer and law firm headhunter who is happiest on stage working as a storytelling performance artist.
Loren Niemi is an innovative storyteller/poet who has also spent 40 years working as a community organizer and advocacy messaging consultant.