Black actors face grief of pandemic in hip-hop musical from Arena

'The Freewheelin’ Insurgents' by Psalmayene 24 is a love letter to #BLM and an elegy for theater.

Arena Stage is now streaming the second installment in its Arena Riffs series: a pandemic-era hip-hop musical written, directed, and performed by award-winning playwright, director and, actor Psalmayene “Psalm” 24.

Titled The Freewheelin’ Insurgents, the 23-minute film shot entirely in black and white and follows a theater crew assembling to rehearse in DC’s legendary Rock Creek Park. Serving as a love letter to the Black Lives Matter movement and an elegy for theater, the musical piece examines the grief and void that the pandemic, combined with the nationwide reckoning on racial injustice, has created for theater artists and audiences.

Film set at Rock Creek Park for ‘The Freewheelin’ Insurgents.’ Photo courtesy of Arena Stage.

The story unfolds through hip-hop and movement and explores issues of violent versus nonviolent protest, love, and mental health during this unprecedented moment in history.

“It was glorious collaborating with some of my favorite artists to bring The Freewheelin’ Insurgents to life,” said Psalmayene 24. “This dream project is a distillation of enormous love — love for the Black community and love for theater.”

The cast and creative team include Othello Banaci, Ivan Basauri, Casey Danielson, Louis Davis, Michael Donnay, Shannon Dorsey, Bria Granville, Camila Franco Ribeiro Gomide, Nick “tha 1da” Hernandez, Jeremy Hunter, Gary L. Perkins, Psalmayene “Psalm” 24, Danielle Preston, Gabby Sturgeon, Tony Thomas, Aaron Tucker, and Justin Weaks.

Arena Riffs, including The Freewheelin’ Insurgents, are free and open to the public to watch, but reservations are encouraged by visiting hereEach original musical will be available to stream at

Arena Riffs are self-produced, self-contained finished pieces presented by Arena Stage. Arena Riffs will conclude on April 14 at 7 p.m. with a new music piece, A More Perfect Union, written by award-winning composer Rona Siddiqui (Salaam Medina: Tales of a HalfganOne Good Day).

Psalmayene 24

Psalmayene 24 (Greg) is an award-winning playwright, director, and actor. Psalm, as his colleagues call him, is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Playwright in Residence at Mosaic Theater and the Doris Duke Artist in Residence at Studio Theatre. Directing credits include Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu at Studio Theatre, Native Son by Nambi E. Kelley at Mosaic Theater Company, Word Becomes Flesh (recipient of five 2017 Helen Hayes Awards, including Outstanding Direction of a Play) by Marc Bamuthi Joseph at Theater Alliance and The Shipment by Young Jean Lee at Forum Theater. Psalm was one of the writers of Arena Stage’s film, May 22, 2020, and he was one of the directors of Arena’s film, The 51st State. He wrote “Double Entendre”, the fifth episode of Roundhouse Theatre’s ten-part pandemic influenced web series Homebound. His play, Les Deux Noirs (2020 Charles MacArthur Award Nomination for Outstanding Original New Play or Musical and Venturous Capital Grant recipient), is inspired by a legendary 1953 confrontation between famed writers Richard Wright and James Baldwin in a Paris café and received its world premiere production at Mosaic Theater Company. Psalm has received commissions from the African Continuum Theater Company, Arena Stage, Imagination Stage, The Kennedy Center, Theater Alliance, Solas Nua, Mosaic Theater Company and Theatrical Outfit. His one man play, Free Jujube Brown!, is recognized as a seminal work in Hip-Hop Theatre and is published in the anthology, Plays from the Boom Box Galaxy: Theater from the Hip-Hop Generation (TCG). His play, Dear Mapel, a series of letters to his deceased father, premiered at Mosaic Theater last fall.

Justin Weaks, Louis E. Davis, Gary L. Perkins III, and Shannon Dorsey ‘The Freewheelin’ Insurgents.’ Photo courtesy of Arena Stage.

Louis E. Davis (Church) is excited to be working again! Working again with Psalmayene 24 and Arena Stage on this piece makes it even better. Louis is a recent recipient of the 2020 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Performer in a Play – Helen for his work in Topdog/Underdog (WSC Avant Bard). His past credits include Folger Theatre’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and Second Shepard’s Play; Solas Nua’s The Frederick Douglass Project; Theater Alliance’s Word Becomes Flesh and Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea; Imagination Stage’s The Freshest Snow Whyte; Mosaic Theater’s Charm. Instagram: @thekid_kinglou. “Thank you, Ma, for everything, I love & miss you!”

Shannon Dorsey (Zora) was nominated for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress for An Octoroon. Past credits include FamiliarKiss (Woolly Mammoth); All the Way (Arena Stage); A Christmas Carol (Ford’s Theatre); the Helen Hayes Award-winning A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Kennedy Center); Carmen (Synetic Theater); Unexplored Interior (Mosaic Theater Company); Two Trains Running (Round House Theatre); Skeleton CrewMarcus; or the Secret of SweetIn the Red or Brown Water and Breath, Boom (Studio Theatre); Stick Fly (Everyman Theatre); and The Shipment (Forum Theatre). Regional credits include Safe House and The Trip to Bountiful (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park); A Raisin in the Sun (Perseverance Theatre); The Great MacDaddy (Negro Ensemble Company NYC); The Power of the Trinity (NYC SummerStage); and The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller (West End Theatre NYC). Shannon received her B.A. in Communications, Theater, and African American studies at Temple University. She thanks God for the abundance of love and support from her family and friends. Instagram: @cooldiscoshann, Twitter: @shannondeluxe,

Gary L. Perkins III (Noble) is a two-time Helen Hayes award winning actor in the D.C. area. He was last seen in Arena’s original film The 51st State. Regional theater credits include: Theater Alliance: Blackest BattleWord Becomes Flesh (Remount), Word Becomes Flesh (Helen Hayes Award); Imagination Stage: Zomo the RabbitThumbelina; Keegan Theatre: Airness (Helen Hayes nomination); 1st Stage: AirnessA Civil War Christmas; Studio Theater: P.Y.G or The Misedumacation of Dorian Belle; Solas Nua: The Frederick Douglass Project (Helen Hayes Award); Forum Theater: The Shipment; New Horizon Theater: Do Lord Remember Me. He has appeared in independent films, commercials and received his training from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA. Instagram: @garylperkins3rd.

Justin Weaks (Dante) returns to Arena Stage after appearing in The 51st State (short film). A Charlotte, NC native, he has been appearing on Washington, D.C. stages since 2015, working at theaters such as The Kennedy Center, Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, Ford’s Theatre, Studio Theatre and many more. Pre-pandemic, he was working with Theater Alliance (This Bitter Earth) and Studio Theater (Pipeline). Additional regional and New York credits include work with Round House Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Shakespeare & Company and Barter Theatre. A two-time Helen Hayes Award recipient and five-time nominee, Justin is a teaching artist in the DMV area and a company member of the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. Education: BA in Theatre from Greensboro College. Instagram: @keithweaks.

Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director Molly Smith and Executive Producer Edgar Dobie, is a national center dedicated to American voices and artists. Arena Stage produces plays of all that is passionate, profound, deep and dangerous in the American spirit, and presents diverse and ground-breaking work from some of the best artists around the country. Arena Stage is committed to commissioning and developing new plays and impacting the lives of over 10,000 students annually through its work in community engagement. Now in its eighth decade, Arena Stage serves a diverse annual audience of more than 300,000. 

SEE ALSO (the first installment in Arena Riffs):
The Bengsons create new indie-folk musical for Arena Stage
interview by Keith Loria


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