The 365 Project/Same Difference Collaboration by Al Heartley

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A little over a week ago, Same Difference opened at Cleveland Public Theatre as part of their Big Box ’14 series. This series is a platform to try out new work as well as to produce something on your own. While I was directing the project, Bridgette contacted me about the possibility of having a book release event in Cleveland around Same Difference. I thought this might be a brilliant move. There were many common threads between Same Difference and The 365 Project. I also thought that in terms of producing, this would be a good way to bring people to the show.

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Same Difference tells the story of Anthony and Jahmal, two college roommates who are thrust together from two different backgrounds and two ironic perspectives. Jahmal, a young man from the southside of Chicago, is a man who looks at the world with rose colored and colorblind glasses. Anthony, also known as AKA, is from the suburbs of Chicago, but has bought into the idea of “gangsta” Blackness and believes that racism continues to be because of white people. Both young men are trapped by worldviews that have been shaped largely by their interactions through the perspective of race, class, and gender. The challenge of the piece is to constantly attempt to put aside perceptions of who people believe that they are and who they are reconciling to be. They encounter a world that is trying to shape who they are and conform them to a particular model. That’s what this play has consistently made me think about. It makes me think about what people of color are “told to be.” When it comes to identity, I think in college and in our early 20s we all struggle with who we want to be and who we are perceived to be. Sometimes perception is inescapable, especially for people of color.

Bridgette explores the same themes as Same Difference in her book. There are many times where Bridgette faced instances of discrimination primarily based on race, class, and her gender. At a tender age and a city that was rather tough, Bridgette confronted the same questions that Jahmal and Anthony had for themselves: who am I and most importantly WHY am I? I institute the why because I believe people don’t explore that question enough. We don’t always connect the who we are with the why we are. There tends to be a separate because that separation means that we don’t have to deal with the past. It leaves the past and the experiences that we have exactly where they are. However, the past is always the present. It’s not something that just leaves us. It may be less effective, but it is always there. Bridgette experienced the same in her time in Chicago and there were bigger questions that we were both struggling with. The questions surely don’t go away, but you hope that you find yourself toward an answer. However, the key to life as it is to Bridgette’s poems, is the journey not the destination. As you explore the poems, it is not necessarily about finishing every poem, but instead it is about exploring the journey of identity. The play does the same thing. Many people wanted a solution to Same Difference when the truth is that there is not a definitive answer.

The event was a great success and I’m glad it introduced Bridgette to the Cleveland community. Hopefully there will be more opportunities to collaborate with the 365 Project.

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