This August will mark 30 years since the Crown Heights Riots, a tragic clash that erupted between the residents of the densely populated Brooklyn community. Starting tonight, Theatrical Outfit will commemorate the anniversary by bringing Anna Deavere Smith’s masterpiece, “Fires in the Mirror” to life. “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes spoke with the co-director and star of the one-woman show, January LaVoy, about the play.
About the Crown Heights Riots:
On August 19, 1991, a Jewish driver struck two young African-American children on the sidewalk, killing one of them instantly. The other was critically injured. This incident was the boiling point for many of the Black and Jewish residents of the Brooklyn area, where tensions were already at an all-time high. Anger and violence erupted in the streets, resulting in three days of riots, more than 200 people injured, and more than 150 arrested.
LaVoy spoke about her experience with the riots, “I grew up a little more than an hour outside of New York City so our local news was New York City news and I was a young teenager. Vividly I remember seeing the video clips on the news. And we didn’t have the sort of 24-hour news cycle then in the way that we do now, but it was so persistent.”
What drew her to perform in ‘Fires in the Mirror’:
“On the first day of rehearsals last month, I said to everyone ‘I was asked to do this piece by Matt Torney, the artistic director of Theatrical Outfit and Adam Immerwahr, my co-director, in December of 2019. Had I known what we all would have been through between then, when I said yes, and now…I might not have said yes.’ It’s shocking to me how much more relevant this piece becomes literally every day,” said LaVoy.
She continued, “Not having known how immersed we all would all be in the cultural and social dialogue of race, ethnicity, religion. How we move through the world and relate to other people. Not knowing how exhausted I personally would be at this starting line. I don’t think I would have had it in me. We started rehearsals and I had a lot of doubt, but this play has taught me more about myself, the world, and humanity. So, I’m quite grateful.
What she hopes audiences take away from this show:
“We have to remember especially in a moment when we’re having so many conversations about systems, which is so important. No one talked about systemic racism when I was a child. I was a Black child growing up in a very segregated white Connecticut. No one would have ever talked about that. Racism was known as something that one person did to another person and if you weren’t doing that thing at that moment or calling a person a name, then there was no racism. So it’s important we’re talking about systems, and institutions and history,” said LaVoy.
She continued, “At the same time, we have to remember that we are all people with individual experiences lives, opinions, dysfunctions, histories living inside these often broken systems. So it’s the wild variable of people. And even if we were able to fix all the systems, there’s still the part that we carry inside us. I just hope that people can sort of take a moment to just process the humanity of other different kinds of people inside of the work that we’re trying to do within the systems.”