Theater Preview: BREATHE. (by Philicia Saunders)

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by Nia Liat on November 28, 2020

in Theater-Los Angeles,Virtual


With the recent political, racial, and global unrest occurring throughout 2020, the premiere of recent political, racial, and global unrest occurring throughout 2020, the premiere of Breathe., a live-streamed multimedia form of art activism and interactive theater event fusing performance, cinema, and artistic swimming in a hybridized narrative that could only be born during these challenging, yet galvanizing times.

The virtual premiere of Breathe. streams on YouTube (except for Dec. 13 when it will be Twitch) – LIVE on Friday, Dec. 11 at 5:00 p.m. PST and on Saturday, Dec. 12 at 3:30 p.m. PST. Encore performances with post-performance Talkbacks will take place on Sunday, Dec. 13 at 2:00 p.m. PST (this presentation plays on Twitch and is pay-what-you can; Talkback is with Sweet Alice) and Friday, Dec. 18 at 5:00 p.m. PST. Registration is available at Breathe. on a sliding scale between $5-$50 with a portion of the proceeds going to Sweet Alice’s nonprofit Parents of Watts and the Community Coalition.

Philicia Saunders (Tabala Zo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens & The Rise of Skywalker) wrote and stars in this one-woman theater show portraying 20 characters. Breathe. is based on her life-changing personal journey towards activism after a chance trip to a Civil Rights monument during a civil rights tour in Alabama and mentorship by a luminary of activism, Sweet Alice Harris, one of Watts’ most beloved community organizers. The piece is directed by Saunders’ fellow Princeton alum Roger Q. Mason.

Breathe. evolved from Saunders graduate school thesis called Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired which was a series of taped interviews that she had with Sweet Alice from 2012, and now in 2020 these interviews are more relevant today and are seen in this current version of Breathe. It’s important to note that some of the themes and events which occurred in the 1965 Watts unrest are still relevant and unfortunately happening in 2020. Parents of Watts organization was created by Sweet Alice as a result of the Watts unrest of 1965. (Coincidentally 2020 is the 55th Anniversary of the Watts riots).

As Saunders learned from Sweet Alice: “You can’t just be silent and stand in one place.” This highly unique production is sure to spark discussion and action among viewers everywhere. Breathe. is being performed and recorded in Hollywood.

“Our country paints fringed peoples as monoliths. Through Breathe., Saunders dynamically disrupts such a singular vision of Black life, womanhood, and youthful professional and personal yearning. In the piece, we assay a young middle-class Black woman who has access to many of the same experiences that are typically associated with her white counterparts (i.e. private school education, the Ivy League, travel, artistic swimming, etc.). One would think she has the access and socio-economic power to “buy” immunity from systemic racism. However, as Saunders’ work reveals, there is still a palpable disadvantage to living while Black and female in America and Europe,” exclaims Mason.

Breathe. was an ever-changing and intriguing passion project for me. It’s been a year in the making and I am so proud of how far it has come. Writing and acting in this play has elicited very strong emotions for me, but the inspiration, sense of satisfaction, and meaning that came from putting this show together has carried over into other areas of my life in a beneficial way”, explains Saunders. “I am eager to start making a change and spark those conversations that we need to be having – about racism, identity, silence, action. I dedicate this show to my parents and my parents’ parents and my ancestors before them, and to those who have lost their lives to acts of hatred and senseless violence. I also dedicate this show to those who still can’t breathe.”

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