Azuka Theatre’s ‘a hit dog will holler’ analyzes the changing role of advocacy

Azuka Theatre_AHD_07pro
Johanna Austin / AustinArt.org

Azuka Theatre’s ‘a hit dog will holler‘ by playwright Inda Craig-Galván is now on stage. It is the first show of the 2022/2023 season at the Drake Theater, and is directed by Azuka Co-Artistic Director Reva Stover.

Starring actor-artists Jessica Johnson and Adaeze Nwoko, Craig-Galván’s drama looks at the changing role of advocacy and the advancing racism in the eyes of two very different activists facing their own internal struggles and fears — all during the 2020 axis of the Black Lives Matter movement toward social justice and the onset of the Covid pandemic.

Johanna Austin / AustinArt.org

“I almost got stuck, abroad in another country at that time in 2020, and have never been so glad to get back to Philadelphia,” recalls Nwoko. “I was here, in time for all of the protests, which is one of the reasons that Craig-Galván’s play resonates for me. I was doing a lot of boots-on-the-ground protesting, we finally had the time to put our mouths where our bodies had been. That was very gratifying – there was power and vigor in utilizing our power of speech – but it was all mentality exhausting, too.”

Stover was in Philadelphia, too, in 2020, after having recently moved to the city earlier that year, with a concentration of making theater via Zoom as the pandemic hit, while also doing educational theater.

“I think that, along with protest on the streets, I was also involved in armchair activism surrounding BLM movement and equitable rights for people of color and marginalized groups,” says the director. “We were fighting for what we believe, and so do the characters in ‘a hit dog will holler’.”

Johanna Austin / AustinArt.org

“With my co-artistic director, Rebecca May Flowers, it exciting to expand Azuka’s mission, one beyond interpersonal connections and relationships, and into a more systemic and universal ideology,” adds Stover. “So we’re looking at race relations, class, queerness and environmentalism, and how all of those things, all of those worlds, come together. We’re looking at what it means to be an underdog in a global, systemic way. That is very in line with who I am an artist, so it is great to be able to blend both worlds.”

As for the specifics of ‘a hit dog will holler’, actor Nwoko calls its language as contemporary as its setting.

“Inda works diligently to get our modern inflection in this show,” she said of her character, Dru. “With that, it felt easy to find out who my character is because the language is more grounded, more natural. There is a lot of anger inside these characters, but, Dru likes to see concrete action and results to her protests… in order to take down white supremacy.”

“‘a hit dog will holler’ is perfect in working toward that goal as 2020 is something that we all went through – we all dealt with all feelings of isolation and the outside world being scary,” concludes Stover. “With that, there are more layers when we look at the identities of Black people, Black femmes, Black queer femmes, and then on top of that, all of their struggles against racism and inequity.”

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