It’s been nearly a year since Charleston lost nine churchgoing citizens to the hand of a gun-wielding racist, and the city is still recovering. Sharon Graci, artistic director of PURE Theater, believes that art can and should make a difference in the healing process; that silence is not an option; and that a staging of Claudia Rankine’s own Citizen offers the opportunity for a much-needed conversation.

By Sharon Graci at American Theatre:

Charleston is a city that is lauded time and again for its charm, grace, beauty, history, and arts. But for all that is lovely and oddly cosmopolitan about this tiny Eden by the sea, I believe that a wicked combination of our unfailing politeness and an adherence to backward conditioning that will not allow us to discuss what is broken means that we refuse to have a conversation about race. The question then becomes: What can we as theatre artists do to spark the conversation? How do we begin the vibration that results in real dialogue about what is happening here? By here, I don’t just mean Charleston, I mean everywhere: Baltimore, Los Angeles, Ferguson, Mo., Sanford, Fl., Hempstead, N.Y. and every city and town in the nation. It took a tragedy that exploded across international headlines for me to recognize that what has choked back my voice was insidious, compliant silence.

A fusion of poetry, theatre, imagery, and sound, Citizen is an unflinching howl against racism, trumpeting the truth that while the color of someone’s skin may be the first thing we see, it should never be the only thing we remember. And Citizen turned out to be the voice we were seeking, the spark to ignite the dialogue, and the platform from which to launch our awareness of the wounds and indignities that keep us firmly and silently rooted in division.

This story was originally published on June 3rd, 2016.