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The Survivor's Journal...An Unforgettable Encore!




On Saturday October 19th, I traveled to the historic Miller Theatre in Augusta, GA for the encore performance of the original stage play, The Survivor’s Journal. I missed the debut performance back in April, and there was no way that I was going to miss it again. Powered by Ready or Not Productions, not only does the play boast an all-black cast, its writer (Shova Nikki Williams), composer (Miles D. Mealing), and director (Stuart Brooks), are all black creatives as well. This was certainly a history making moment, as the black community as a whole is experiencing a beautiful modern renaissance in performance arts and autobiographical storytelling.


Miles D. Mealing, Shova Nikki Williams, and Stuart Brooks make history at Miiller Theatre.

Now, to be fair, let me get a couple of biases out of the way:


1. I used to do stage plays in college, and I absolutely adore the energy of the theatre! Seriously. It’s comparable to nothing. The weeks of rehearsals, long days, seeing the set come together, having a “perfect moment” in rehearsal and wondering if you’ll be able to recreate it on stage in front of live audience, getting into costume, waiting in the wings for the curtains to open… {SIGH}…I just love it all. And though I was just an audience member, I know the theatre experience from the perspective of the players.

And speaking of the players...


2. Many of the actors are personal friends of mine. I am convinced that I know some of the world’s most talented people, and a handful of them were involved in this play in some way or another.


3. One of my favorite songwriter’s, Miles D. Mealing was responsible for the music and songs presented. He’s an amazing songwriter, and can capture emotional depths with his pen unlike I’ve ever heard. His writing and composition are rare gifts. (Hopefully, I can catch up with him for an interview soon!)


In a nutshell, I know that I walked into the production already half a fan, simply because of my love for theatre and my love of the participants.


I drove into Augusta on the day of the production, and it rained the entire 2.5 hour trip. Despite the unseasonably warm weather we’d been experiencing in GA/SC, “Fall” decided to show up this day. It was cold and wet, and I always wonder how gloomy weather will affect the turnout of an event. The patrons did not disappoint. I arrived 30 minutes before the curtain, and lines were in full affect at Will Call and people were already pouring into the venue. I was seated mid-center, as guests filled both the floor and balcony seating. At 7pm, the lights went down, and I could feel that electric theatre energy.


We were welcomed by stand-up comedienne, “Small Fire” (whom I’ve actually enjoyed since her early days as Small Fry). She did a great job of warming up the crowd and setting the tone for what was coming. She let us know to prepare for everything from laughing to crying to discomfort…and she was exactly right.


I don’t know what exactly comes to your mind when you hear the words “Survivor’s Journal”. Honestly, I didn’t quite know what to expect either, but I was pretty much prepared for anything. What I was not prepared for was the range of topics that were addressed in such a succinct manner. I won’t try to recap the play because there’s no way I’d do it justice. But I will attempt to convey the production’s impact.


I tried to catch every theme, but on some level, I think that whatever was meant for you, spoke to you. That’s the beauty of projects executed by people of faith. They tend to leave room for the Holy Spirit to do what He wants to do through the work. I’m sure there will be testimonies that will follow this production for some time.


The Survivor’s Journal deals with gun violence, murder, domestic abuse, substance abuse and drug addiction, marital strains, infidelity, rape, parental neglect, PTSD, police brutality and race relations, low self-esteem, depression, dream abandonment, forgiveness, and more. It was a whirlwind of emotional issues presented with the brutal honesty necessary to address the seriousness of the issues.


For me, a theme that I found common throughout each story line was the power of guilt and shame. There were so many times when the characters who had spiraled out of control or who were even on the victim’s end of a situation could trace their current state back to a moment of “If only I had done something different.” Survivor’s guilt is a very real thing, though I wonder how much it’s discussed or even recognized. Medically, it’s described as a mental condition that occurs when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not, often feeling self-guilt. The experience and manifestation of survivor's guilt will depend on an individual's psychological profile, but truly there’s no limit to how this particular brand of guilt might show itself. The outcomes are as varied as the people experiencing them.


One of my favorite scenes came very early in the production. The bridge character, Miles, cried and prayed his way through a funeral as others came to greet and comfort him. It was a captivating visual representation of the pain, numbness, isolation and darkness of grief. Everything from lighting to staging to the music amplified the message of that moment.



I also found myself drawn to the conversational scenes between sisters, Kelly and Stacey. There was such a complexity to their relationship, with layer after layer being peeled back right up until the final moments. I love not knowing clearly who to root for in a situation, and their complicated sisterhood was impacted by years of animosity, anger, guilt, secrets, finger-pointing, comparisons, judgement, and poor self-esteem. They pivoted through issue after issue, taking me from annoyance and frustration to pity and heartbreak...and eventually redemption. Still, don't think for a moment that The Survivor's Journal was all doom and gloom. There were wonderful moments of humor and comic relief sprinkled all throughout. (Kelly and Stacey's brother, a hilarious, but subtly wise drug addict was definitely a favorite!)




While, I didn't personally identify with a lot of the issues that the play tackled, it was evident that every single theme hit some member of the audience and resonated in a major way. I think the ultimate idea of light after darkness and purpose through pain will always be a point of connection for me. And as I left The Survivor's Journal stage play experience, I left with the reminder that no matter what my past holds, it doesn't hold me. I am truly free forever!


Royally yours,

Audrey

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