By Cicero A. Estrella
Eight minutes and 46 seconds.
Each of the 24 works by multidisciplinary theater artists created for this weekend’s free Breath Project Virtual Festival lasts exactly 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the same length of time that George Floyd spent on the ground with a Minneapolis police officer’s knee pressed on his neck before he eventually died.
The provocative project was conceived by Gamal Abdel Chasten and Marieke Gaboury, both of whom have Bay Area ties, in response to the current global spotlight of racial injustice suffered in recent months by Black people like Floyd and others.
The virtual festival will be held Oct. 24 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., and on Oct. 25 at 5 p.m.
More than 65 artists of color submitted original work that range from monologues and slam poetry to puppetry and dance activism. A third of the submissions will be featured in the virtual festival, and the rest will be housed in the project’s archives.
“The range of works we received was vast, and included more traditional theatrical presentations and those that challenged the idea of what is theater in this moment of isolation,” artistic director and co-founder Chasten said.
“It is my hope that when people visit our website, attend the virtual festival, or follow and support our vision, they will have their boundaries pushed and their ideas challenged, and that, in the process we change the face of American theater.”
The Breath Project seeks to build a more equitable theater community in the country and actively dismantle structural racism in the American theater.
Actor, poet, writer, composer and activist Chasten is a founding member of the national Universes Theater Ensemble. His latest project is “The Land of Lost Socks,” which was commissioned by the Palo Alto Children’s Theater and AmericUS. His work, “I Just Don’t Know,” will be among those featured in the festival.
Co-founder Gaboury is a Theatre Specialist for the city of Palo Alto.
Twenty-four theaters from across the country have partnered to present the virtual event. They include the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley and the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre.
The festival is free, but donations are welcomed. For more information, including how to RSVP for the event, visit thebreathproject2020.com.
Photos courtesy of The Breath Project