By Austin Kaiser
“Dare To Claim The Sky” is a spoken word performance by Sharon Nyree Williams about black culture, church, childhood, and social justice. Ms. Williams’s poems have energy and unique structure. One poem repeats the phrase, “It started in church,” developing upon its ideas with each successive couplet. In a poem about her parents, she repeats lines like “Why are you minding something that ain’t your business?” and “Keep trying me.” She brought slices of real life into an artistic space, played with them, and offered wisdom and perspective as she discussed truths that are hidden from children.
In one memorable poem, Ms. Williams calls herself a “bedside Baptist,” who stayed in bed instead of attending church. She affectionately recounts her family’s faith, sense of humor, and daily routines and priorities. As someone who drinks, curses, and listens to club music, she felt she needed a church that accepted her for who she was.
Ms. Williams is a charismatic performer who uses wordplay and rhythm, making pop culture references and challenging traditional wisdom. In a poem about her depression, she tells us she got through it with prayer. She knew she was suffering when she answered yes to all of the questions on a doctor’s questionnaire. We didn’t get to hear the questions, and Ms. Williams sometimes leaves us wanting more detail as she delivers the contact but pulls the full punch.
Ms. Williams is ambitious – she said that she wants to be a Maya Angelou. Before the show started, an audience member asked about the running time and someone in the production booth, presumably a collaborator of Ms. Williams, said, “Forever. The show is sixty minutes but it’ll change your life.” In the middle of the show, a recording of the Riverside Church speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. played over the speaker. “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.” It was bold of Ms. Williams to juxtapose her writing with Dr. King’s, inviting comparisons.
Describing her positive churchgoing experiences, Ms. Williams evoked powerful visuals: the welcoming pastor, the harmonies of the choir, the swaying of the congregants. Ms. Williams knows what’s good. She knows she has it. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t have brought it.
“Dare To Claim The Sky”
Written and Performed by Sharon Nyree Williams
Nov. 7 at 3:30pm
Director & Dramaturg: Christine Sumption
Musical Director: Joe Kye
Technical Director: Dominque Thomas
Graphic Designer: Bryan K. Johnson
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
AUSTIN KAISER is a writer with an expertise in art and the creative process. His writing is about improving your imagination and exercising your empathy muscle. Kaiser is currently writing a book called, “100 Questions Every Artist Should Have The Answers To.” His other book, “How To Go Viral & Put Wings On Ideas: A Book For Content Creators & Young Artists,” explains how ideas travel and which ideas travel best. More at www.medium.com/@KaiserMane.