Last Updated on October 17, 2023 by BVN
Theater is its own form of magic, a medium that allows illusion and reality to co-exist to tell necessary stories. Playwright and University of California Riverside (UCR) professor Rickerby Hinds has successfully captured this magic in his adaptation of the autobiographical story of abolitionist, later turned magician, Henry “Box”Brown, in his epic poem play “Blackbox” that relates all Brown endured while he was an enslaved man until he decides to ship himself to freedom in a three feet long by two feet tall and two feet wide wooden box.
Theater and magic coalesce in “Blackbox” to deliver a one of a kind, memorable human and theatrical experience that suspends disbelief with amazing acting and magic while encouraging the audience to think and reflect on the deep content.
On Thursday, October 5, 2023, “Blackbox” opened to awe inspiring success in the University Theatre at UCR, Rickerby Hinds’ alma matter and the first place to feature his work.
Hinds hip-hop theater style eloquence in “Blackbox” had staged readings during its development through Cal Arts and was part of the Ford’s Theatre Legacy Commissions initiative with the historic Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC, but October 5, 2023, at UCR was its first fully staged and produced iteration.
Written by Hinds, the piece is directed by Thomas F. DeFrantz, with scenic design by Christopher Scott Murillo, costume design by Landis Maren York, lighting design by Ben Tusher, sound design by Jeremiah Turner, music directed by Jasmine Gatewood, video design by Fallon Williams and magic consultant Naathan Phan.
The production included performances by Andrew Hardin as Henry “Box” Brown and Jasmine Gatewood as Spirit. Understudies were Josiah Alpher and Jada Ramsey.
Prior to the play’s opening, the lobby was bustling with expectant energy in anticipation of the story yet to unfold, and even included a magician doing slight of hand to dazzle the arriving audience.
Riverside Mayor and fellow UCR Alum, Patricia Lock Dawson, set the stage for what was to come with a heartfelt speech as the opening night event was part of her Arts with the Mayor series. “Given that Riverside is referred to as the city of arts and innovation, Blackbox is a testament to the power of storytelling, the exploration of complex themes and the profound impact the arts can have on our lives,” she declared.
“I’d like to thank Rickerby Hinds’ commitment to the craft of theater and his ability to tackle important issues through his work which is incredibly commendable,” she added noting, “Blackbox promises to be a thought provoking and enlightening experience for all who have the privilege of witnessing it”.
During the play’s run at UCR that concluded on Saturday, October 14, 2023, more than 700 students from area schools attended to learn of Henry “Box”Brown’s journey.
The next steps for “Blackbox” include a series of shows in Riverside in February that continues its development.