Different Strokes! Performing Arts Collective has never shied away from uncomfortable themes. In the last five years, the group brought activism to the stage while making a distinct impact on the local theater landscape.
With the new production of Zoë Flowers’ “ChoreoDrama” From Ashes To Angel’s Dust, Different Strokes tackles domestic violence. Directed by Steph Hickling Beckman, it incorporates the stories of women along with the expression of dance, as choreographed by co-director Kristi DeVille. The play runs Thursday, March 5, through Saturday, March 21, at The BeBe Theatre.
“I first saw it in 2011, and I was just blown away by the simplicity of it,” Beckman says of the production. “It was basically a staged reading, but the play was so powerful, and it just hit home, and I immediately thought, ‘This has to be shown in Asheville.’”
From Ashes to Angel’s Dust is kind of like the phoenix rising, Beckman adds: “It tells these stories, but yet it shows the hope for not being a victim the rest of your life.” Domestic violence, she says, has “either happened to somebody we know, or it’s happened to us. That’s how pervasive it is. And yet we don’t talk about it.”
The local production uses seven capable actors of various ages, backgrounds and races to create a tapestry of characters. Naomi Ansano, Denise Carter, Frances Davis, Tiffany Debellott, Althea Gonzalez, Emmalie Handley and Shanita Jackson perform vignettes of poetry and movement that, according to the Different Strokes website, “drive the stories of our mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, and friends.” Says DeVille, “A lot of our dance numbers actually lift the scene.”
Even the show’s stage manager, who is also a dancer, ended up performing. “We use every bit of talent we have on this stage,” says Beckman. “We’ve got slam poet Shanita Jackson, and of course we’re using her talent. She even wrote a piece especially for the show that we’ve incorporated.”
The power of the piece wasn’t lost in the rush to ready the show for audiences. Beckman says that some rehearsals turned into long conversations between cast members about their thoughts, feelings and real-life experiences in relation to the play’s material.
Flowers was inspired to write the play after her years of work in the field of domestic violence. In 2011, she started the Angel’s Dust Theatre Company, with the aim of producing socially relevant and culturally responsible theater, which makes it easy to see why she found something of a kindred spirit with Different Strokes.
For this production, the local theater company partnered with The Black Church and Domestic Violence Institute, a national educational ministry working to prevent domestic abuse. “Zoë found in her studies that, even though [domestic abuse] is multicultural and affects all women, it affects African-American women more than it does a lot of other races,” says Beckman. “The place where they go [for help] is the church.” The nonprofit will receive a portion of the ticket sales, which continues the tradition of Different Strokes giving back to charitable community organizations that tie into the themes of each production.
While the topic is dark, Beckman is proud of the work and hopes audiences will find it uplifting. “It’s handled in a way where there’s no judgment, no accusation,” she says. “It’s got to touch people in a deeper way [so you] feel like you have someone on your side.”
WHAT: From Ashes To Angel’s Dust: A Journey Through Womanhood
WHERE: The BeBe Theatre
WHEN: March 5-21, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. $15 adults/$12 students and seniors. differentstrokesavl.com