As part of its weekly digital series #BraveNewShakespeare, which challenges members of the theater community to create their own interpretations of what Shakespeare’s words mean to them today, The Public Theater has released a powerful new video in honor of Juneteenth. It’s a work with overwhelming emotional impact and socio-political import, and one that should not be missed.
Creative Director and Producer Kimber Elayne Sprawl, last seen in Broadway’s Girl From the North Country, led the collaborative presentation of Hamlet’s universal soliloquy “To Be or Not To Be,’ performed remotely by a group of 30 highly acclaimed Black actors from across the US. Individually and collectively, as described by Sprawl, “they explore the truth in the painful reality of being Black in America with Shakespearean text. Timeless words that were never intended for us, yet the notion ‘To Be or Not To Be’ carries infinite weight throughout Black American history.”
The video features intensely expressive and empathetic deliveries of the momentous reflection on life and death by Toree Alexander, Jelani Alladin, Denée Benton, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Sterling K. Brown, Jonathan Burke, Ato Blankson-Wood, Gerald Caesar, Don Cheadle, Grantham Coleman, Khris Davis, Ellis Dawson, André De Shields, Alysha Deslorieux, Alexandra Grey, Renée Elise Goldsberry, William Jackson Harper, Nikki M. James, Wonza Johnson, Blaine Krauss, Audra McDonald, Jevon McFerrin, Patina Miller, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Adrienne C. Moore, Joe Morton, Jordin Sparks, Kimber Elayne Sprawl, Alexandria Wailes, and Nik Walker. Their performances are interspersed with news footage from the history of the Civil Rights Movement and enhanced by musicians Richie Goods and Wesley Winfrey playing “Strange Fruit” (written by Lewis Allan and sung by Audra McDonald), with expert video editing by Katiana Weems and audio engineering by Gabby Henderson.
You can watch this profoundly affecting work here, or on The Public’s YouTube channel.