The Quantum Nature of Black Revolutionary Theatre
by Sage Crump
Quantum theory is about complexity and relationships. This makes it a great lens by which to think about Black Revolutionary Theatre. Quantum theory can be understood as an offspring of much older concepts found within Indigenous cultures globally. It is in the Lakota saying Mitakuye Oyasin, meaning “All My Relations”. It can be seen in traditional African spiritual systems through the spectrum of deities who, in addition to being in relationship to their practitioners, are also in multiple types of relationships with each other. Tenets of quantum theory can also be conveyed through Muhammad Ali’s famously brief poem “Me, We” which, in just two words, offers us a way to think about the interconnected nature of complexity and relationship. Quantum ideas are all around us. These ideas, evident in nature and how our communities organize outside of government control, can support honing the practice of Black Revolutionary Theatre.
Quantum theory helps us understand Black Revolutionary Theatre because it offers a departure from Newtonian ideas of siloed individual action and delves into the complexity of connection. Blackness is not stagnant or singular. Connection and complexity are integral to Blackness’ ever-evolving existence. Chromotherapy teaches that Black holds all of the colors of the light spectrum. Following this thinking, Blackness is not the absence of anything, as it is often framed within white culture—the absence of privileges, the absence of wealth—but rather the abundance of all things. Blackness thus holds unlimited possibility. Black theatre is not solely the absence of the white gaze. It is the fullness of possibility that is sharpened with a direction towards a future that loves Blackness. The intention in that future-facing has the potential to be revolutionary. Once we ground our understanding in the fullness of what Blackness holds, then we can turn our attention towards the making of art that investigates power, subjectivity, and the material conditions of people.
These points of intersect—power, subjectivity, and material condition—are called nodes in quantum theory. They are the locations of conceptual and material crossing and the basis for the complexity and connectedness that is Black Revolutionary Theatre. More explicitly, it is looking at the connective tissues, the range of possibility, between the perceived binary nature of nodes. A constellation is only seen when a collection of stars are connected. Interconnectedness helps us make sense of the night sky and find a deeper meaning than we would looking at the stars individually.
Black Revolutionary Theatre troubles the individual story by digging into interconnectedness. These spaces are where history, imagination and political analysis build the cradle of Black Revolutionary Theatre. Black Revolutionary Theatre can be located and imagined by exploring the lives of Black people across space and time. That does not mean that it is solely a character-driven medium, but rather, that it is indivisible from our hopes, dreams, loves, laughter, pain, confusion, and celebration. Power, subjectivity, material condition, history, imagination, and analysis are indivisible from our humanity.
"The artist cannot and must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides... I am really trying to make clear the nature of the artist’s responsibility to his society. The peculiar nature of this responsibility is that he must never cease warring with it, for its sake and for his own." - James BaldWIN
Black Revolutionary theatre is a space that deals with the world we live in. The conditions of Black people matter. The condition of global anti-Blackness matters. These are not side ideas to be relegated to a reminder to vote or a list of places to volunteer. Nor are they simply a continuous ravaged response to the way Blackness is codified and treated by others. This is the core of the web of interconnected pedagogy that lands us squarely in the realm of Black radicality. By Black radicality, I do not mean radical in the colloquial term we often use to describe something as unusual or out of the norm. I use radical in the way Ella Baker describes: getting to the root of the matter.
Not only do we understand that there is a ceaseless battle this work is engaged in, but we also understand that depth is no small consideration here. Roots are deep. Imagined futures are expansive. Depth does not determine content. It determines what you do with the content and this depth can only be made visible by its connectedness and engagement of the observed and imagined life. Like Saidiyah Hartman’s practice of Critical Fabulation, we peer into, over, and under life. We disintegrate boundaries of time and space; figures to explode into shapes that are familiar, yet never been seen. This is the radical imagination required for Black Revolutionary Theatre that traverses the depths of Black joy, the depths of Black rage, the depths of Black love and all of the ways Black humanity exists. There ain’t no half steppin’ in Black Revolutionary Theatre.
"Rejected by the economic system, today’s ‘field hands’ have also been freed to reject the system. Pushed out of the system by the system itself. They have become outlaws, at war with all the values and legalities of America." - James Boggs
Within Black Revolutionary Theatre, Black subjectivity—which understands Black as beingness and the performance of living—is a realignment of power. Power over life and death are returned to those most affected by Black life and death and both that power and those it is returned to can be corporeal or ancestral. This theatre-making eschews the telling of Black people as other and instead centers them. It takes advantage of the shadows of the margins to experiment, play, learn itself, and bloom. Black Revolutionary Theatre proliferates like the wildflower Larkspur, turning untended fields The Color Purple. Flourishing in full sunlight, darkness, and the crepuscule, it’s blooming is errant, iterative, self determined and takes up space. Black Revolutionary Theatre knows itself and holds itself. Even while change is constant, it delights in and honors its complexity.
"Our strength should not be measured by our ability to endure suffering" - dream hampton
Baldwin’s and Boggs’ quotes are carceral references. I use them to cite the direction of energy, not the container of capture. When layered with hampton’s quote, we see a landscape filled with choice and a model for strength. Black Revolutionary Theatre is not strong because it has endured every ounce of the violence, disrespect, and dehumanization thrown at it but because it continues to iterate a tethered forward. It is history, analysis, and imagination, with a compass towards loving Blackness and affirming the lives of Black people.
For Black Revolutionary Theatre, to continue to be a site of resistance is a sacred obligation and to understand the relationship between resistance and imagination is a mandate. Black Revolutionary Theatre is not confined by its relationship to global anti-Blackness. At any given moment, it is both speaking to its carceral conundrum to intentionally work for justice and ignoring it in order to practice and make visible Black freedom. Depending on the position, timing, and lens by which you come to Black Revolutionary Theatre, you will feel either its resistance or its freedom. Simultaneously a run towards battle, a drumline dance routine, a slow drag, and a stroll down MLK Boulevard in any chocolate city, Black Revolutionary Theatre holds all of this and brings into sharper focus everything we see and feel around us.
This is an invitation to lean into that which feels messy and unclear to keep finding the next question that moves us closer to freedom and liberation because we are not seeking a destination. We are building a new practice where complexity is not to be feared and relationships are practiced in new ways. That is Black. That is Revolutionary. And that is Theatre.
***Sage crump is not a scientist. She is a nerd who leans into quantum theory and complexity science as a way to see connection, metaphors and analogies that help her understand the world. ***