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BWW Review: 10 SECONDS at Imagination Stage

"10 Seconds" is the product of workshops and discussions between law enforcement, activists, and DC metro youth under the Imagination Stage Youth and Police program.

BWW Review: 10 SECONDS at Imagination Stage

One of the greatest values of art is that it allows us to capture and examine our moment in time, to really delve into key issues. Amidst increased attention and awareness of police violence and questions about policing and community safety, it's not just fitting, but vital that theatre address these issues as well.

10 Seconds is the product of workshops and discussions between law enforcement, activists, and DC metro youth under the Imagination Stage Youth and Police program. The digital performances and discussions this month are the latest steps in its evolution toward a live staging that is planned once theaters reopen.

10 Seconds explores the impact of misconceptions and biases through the perspective of Ray, a fourteen-year-old boy, who recounts the day he and his best friend, Jimi, planned to change their lives through parallel ten-second speeches. Their lives did change that day, but not in the way they'd anticipated. Ray leads the audience through his and Jimi's history, their plans for the day, and the inner lives of the two police officers with whom they interact, interspersing his telling with asides about his family, his drama teacher, and others who helped shape his understanding of his world and the fateful day. The production is staged primarily on a minimalist stage, though it occasionally turns to theater seating for some narrative asides, and utilizes video footage to set scenes. Directed by LeeAnét Noble, the small, versatile cast consists of Travis Xavier Brown (Ray), Katie Wicklund (Kent), Dylan J. Fleming (Leland), and Tre'mon Mills (Jimi), and each actor takes on minor roles as classmates, family members, love interests, and mentors as needed.

While 10 Seconds has a lot of strong insights, its staging still feels a bit rough. The opening shots meant to establish the scene are more disorienting than helpful, the pacing is a bit frenetic, and the nonlinear storytelling is more distracting than immersive. Indeed, the dread I felt for the inevitable confrontation at the core of the show came from my understanding of the subject matter rather than the performance itself - while it's easy to assume audiences will bring this outside knowledge with them, it feels strange for the production to rely on that rather than to build up the tension within the world of the show. Likewise, Ray's fixation on Jimi's failure to meet at the appointed time is given far more emphasis than fits the story; while grief certainly causes us to fixate on details like this, it didn't seem to fit with the story being told. I found myself puzzled as to why so much importance was given to such a small piece of the larger tale, particularly when there were many other opportunities to highlight more relevant moments.

Sadly, the topic of police violence against Black communities and the distrust it breeds isn't going away anytime soon - in the same week 10 Seconds was screened and a guilty verdict was reached in the murder of George Floyd, sixteen-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant became the latest in a painfully long list of those lost to police violence. The night of the screening, Isaiah Brown was shot ten times by officers responding to a 911 call. Art - such as performances like 10 Seconds - is a vital way to keep up the pressure to demand changes to a broken system whose predictability can be numbing, and the conversations it generates are the stepping stones we need to a better world. As such, 10 Seconds provides an opening for a crucial conversation with young audiences, and it sets up both a context and a humanizing ground for that discussion. But the show itself is still a work in progress, and should use the pandemic-induced hiatus on live theatre to its benefit to tighten its message and outreach.

Imagination Stage's production of 10 Seconds will be screened on Thursday, April 29th, at 6:30 pm, in partnership with the Dallas Children's Theater. Attendance is free, and spots can be reserved through the Imagination Stage website. 10 Seconds addresses sensitive topics about biases, misconceptions, and police violence, and is recommended for viewers ages 13 and up; the production is specifically produced for grades 8-12. Performance run time is approximately 45 minutes, and will be followed by a panel discussion about policing at the national level.

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From This Author Rachael F. Goldberg