When I think of art, I imagine a piece that’s been worked to finality by its artist—and chances are, I’m not the only one. American society treats movies, music, and visual art as completed pieces on platters readily served up to a crowd that’s eager to tear them apart. But is this right? Is art only art when it meets some arbitrary benchmark of being “finished”?
HUE Festival, produced by the Seattle Public Theater, states its goal is to highlight shows by women of color playwrights and to “provide these new works with an opportunity to live and breathe before a community of theater lovers while also giving playwrights the opportunity to hear their work out loud for future development.” Starting on June 9 with Homecoming, written by Sandra Holloway and directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton, a series of plays are presented online with the same goal in mind.
The process of creating is a complicated and wonderful thing, and being allowed to look in on an unfinished piece speaks to both courage and trust on the part of the artist. Each of the playwrights in this festival deserves support and constructive feedback. I will only be speaking to Homecoming, as it’s the show I watched, but do consider going to see the other incredible pieces in HUE Festival’s line-up and donating to the organizations they support.
Homecoming begins with a dark screen. There is no set, no props; the stage director merely reads out cues to set the scene with an eerie, curious tone. This challenges the viewer to visualize a dimly lit auditorium as the camera of the main character—Helena—flickers on. Throughout the show, there are no visuals, background, or effects, aside from the actors in their Zoom boxes.
The premise is simple enough: one night, Helena begins to experience strange events, which seem to be tied to her family in some way. But the way this is told is truly impressive.
From the start, small, disconcerting details are found throughout dialogue and description of events—a quiet whisper in another language, an insistent knock at the door when no one’s there. The viewer has the impression that something is off, but it’s not clear what. I am no expert on writing or tension-building, but I am a huge fan of the horror and supernatural genres, and Homecoming hits every mark of an engaging, well-crafted story meant to put the audience on edge. Foggy themes solidify into dark, shocking truths throughout the plot. Characters’ reactions to the strange events around them are so realistic that I, too, was pinballing back and forth between their respective trains of thought.
A running theme throughout the play is that of the absence of information; or the unknown. Helena constantly questions herself, unsure whether her established struggles with anxiety are causing these strange occurrences, and it’s only when her confidence solidifies that the plot takes a turn for the better.
Another theme is justice. For decades, a white, often male point of view has dominated the supernatural genre, disregarding both people of color and the horrors of European colonization and enslavement. Homecoming challenges these unacceptable trends and centers its story on a Black American family, while also directly addressing and confronting the bloody terrors their ancestors faced at the hands of white people.
Even without a play’s typical scenes and movements, Homecoming engages the audience through everything from character dynamics to vivid descriptions. I consider myself a visual person, but even boxed in Zoom’s limits, I could imagine the actions and locations absent from the screen. This speaks to the level of thought in the wording and dialogue. On occasion, it did take me a moment to get oriented after a scene change, but again, this was working with simply hearing a rehearsal with the script; I look forward to possibly getting to see the play on stage as vaccination rates improve.
I walked away from Homecoming with a new outlook on finality. As an artist myself, I often feel that everything I do must be pushed to its limits, especially if I’m sharing it. But seeing the excellent, well-thought-out feedback given by the audience via the chat, that seems shortsighted. A creative journey doesn’t have to be done alone, after all.
Homecoming was presented by Seattle Public Theater through live stream on June 9, 2021. For more information see here.