SF Mime Troupe’s ‘Freedomland’ examines race, racism

(L to R) Lisa Hori-Garcia, Michael Gene Sullivan and Hugo Carbajal are featured in
(L to R) Lisa Hori-Garcia, George P. Scott and Hugo Carbajal are featured in “Freedomland” by the San Francisco Mime Troupe. (Photo by DavidAllenStudio.com)

Hugo Carbajal’s voice rises when he speaks of the injustices being perpetuated when it comes to institutional racism. He points directly at recent examples of police brutality that have come to light, with footage captured by ordinary citizens on their cell phone cameras. There is no doubt that injustice angers him in a very visceral way. And he has found the perfect group of artists so they can do something about it.

Carbajal’s talents allow him to take his anger to a stage, performing with the famed San Francisco Mime Troupe, a theatre collective that has spent the last 56 years bringing agitational propaganda, or “agitprop” theatre to the masses, in public parks throughout the Bay Area.

Their latest show, entitled “Freedomland” sets its targets squarely on police brutality. Written by longtime Troupe member Michael Gene Sullivan and directed by Andrea Snow and other Troupe members, the show is currently in its run, featuring the play as well as music before and during the show.

Names like Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray brought forth unrest and protests all over the country, and sparked heated conversations that continue daily. This year, the Troupe felt that their energies would be best served focusing on these issues.

Like many, Carbajal has felt anger viewing the daily headlines. And for him, that can be a very productive thing.

“The only way we listen and we are intrigued is when we are pissed off and then engage in conversations with the community,” said Carbajal. “If we don’t do something about it now, it’s not going to change.

“Sometimes we feel like, it’s not affecting me, my family hasn’t been shot, and we can be onlookers. Everybody needs to have these conversations. When people are pissed off, they are bound to speak up and listen.

“Freedomland” takes a sharp look at an amped up police force and their quest to become even more powerful, and their war on the new drug SNORF. The citizens are not sure what to do next, since the SNORF trade is centered in the darkest part of town. It is a world where everyone lighter than white is a suspect.

For Carbajal, who plays two characters including the police chief, there is an underlying tone of racism that exists in the training of the force. As is the case with agitprop theatre, searing satire is at the forefront of the play’s creation.

“I play a character who is scheming to get an army helicopter and to train police officers to see black people as bad, to see everybody as potential criminals,” said Carbajal. “Training is the key as to how black people are perceived in society. For me, it’s very jarring to sort of portray what a possible training session would be – you’re in a dark alley and there is nothing but blackness around. That is the training; anything that is dark is bad.”

Carbajal also puts plenty of responsibility on the media and the narrative they have created.

“Somebody gets shot down holding a can of Arizona tea, while someone who is white will get talked down and arrested,” said Carbajal. “The person with darker skin is a terrorist, but the language used to portray the awful acts of a terror guy shooting down a church is considered misunderstood by the media.

“I think the media should be more responsible in portraying these events. We as a people should be more careful about how we listen to the media and how we reflect on the messages that they’re putting up.”

Because the Troupe is putting forth a specific narrative and perspective, Carbajal acknowledges that not everyone will hear the show’s message, choosing to pigeonhole the show as work by a bunch of commies, as a post on Facebook to the Troupe can attest to. While no one has come up to him personally to voice their displeasure, he would not be surprised and would actually welcome the conversation. He also stated that he would really love to get a police officer’s perspective on the show. And since humor is a vital tool in the Troupe’s presentation, he is hopeful that sharing laughs with each other can continue to push these vital conversations forward.

“Michael crafted a script that is comical yet poignant, and I stand behind the script 100 percent,” said Carbajal. “He manages this tough situation very carefully, and it puts the audience to really try and see all sides of the story.

“It’s not a show where you sit down and it takes you, you have to actively participate. It makes you engage and question your own beliefs and thoughts.”

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

San Francisco Mime Troupe presents “Freedomland”
Written by Michael Gene Sullivan
Directed by Andrea Snow
Admission is free
Through Sept. 7th
For the complete schedule, call (415) 285-1717 or visit www.sfmt.org

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