There are hundreds of ways Claudia Alick is entertaining. On her Soundcloud show, "Hold On Wait For It," she and her sister, Maia Mills-Low, jump seamlessly from talking about how best to mainline sugar (honey stick or alcohol) to the wonders of watching "Dr. Who" on VHS (Alick's seen every episode.) All the while they weave in heftier topics: Alick feels guilty that she never called out Bill Cosby on social media, even though she'd heard about the rape accusations for years. It's a whirlwind of straight talk and wit, pop culture and politics, offered as casual conversation. At one point, in reference to Cosby and the lack of African-American mega-stars in the industry, Alick says, "I'm pretty sure there were 400 Bill Cosbys, but they just died of poverty before they could become Bill Cosby."
Alick, who grew up in Missoula, has a lot of practice with the spoken word. She's the associate producer for Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a playwright, a poetry slam artist, blogger and a social activist. She was recently named by American Theater Magazine as "one of 25 theater artists who will shape American Theater in the next 25 years." She's currently deep into her most ambitious project: Along with Dominic D'Andrea, the artistic director for the One-Minute Play Festival, Alick has produced a project titled Every 28 Hours—a compilation of 90 new and original one-minute plays in response to the civil rights movement embodied by Black Lives Matter. The show will be produced in cities across the country.
"I was very intrigued by the community collaboration aspect of the work that Dominic does," says Alick, speaking from her home in Ashland. "A lot of the work I do is also about taking lots and lots and lots of voices and putting them into one project. I took [the One-Minute Play Festival's] model and exploded it. I said, 'Hey, Dominic, what if instead of you collaborating with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival what if we have you collaborate with us and, like, 30 to 40 other theaters in the country?' He said, 'Yeah! Why not?'"
Even though Alick has engaged in the civil rights movement in her own space, she wanted to root the project in a place representative of the movement: Ferguson, Mo. Phase one of the project entailed reaching out to a diversity of playwrights (Pulitzer and Tony winners, included) to have them each create a one-minute play.
"One of the things important to me was we didn't curate what people wrote," Alick says. "We told them to write us anything that is inspired by the current civil rights movement. But we did try to curate identities. We got a trans writer because 'trans lives matter' is part of the conversation, too, and we made sure we had Native writers and Latino writers."
For phase two, Alick, D'Andrea and 20 sponsored actors and playwrights from participating companies—including from New York's Theater of the Oppressed—arrived in St. Louis and spent three days there. The intensive allowed them to engage with artists and activists and learn the history of the city, from the Missouri Compromise all the way to the social and political makeup that defines Ferguson today. On the last night, Alick's crew collaborated with St. Louis theater-makers to perform a reading of the one-minute plays—some of which they wrote while they were there.
"We had this really beautiful conversation where a police officer was so inspired that she was apologizing and then she got up and hugged [playwright] Elizabeth Vega right in front of me," Alick says. "It was wild."
The next phase will be supporting the 40-some theaters across the country to produce Every 28 Hours, individually. Then, come October 2016, Alick and her partners will coordinate simultaneous productions across the U.S. It is not scheduled for Missoula.
Alick's work is inextricably linked to growing up in Missoula, though she doesn't always explicitly address it in her work. She still has family here—her sister, Mills-Low, for instance, was a part of the local theater scene until she moved to Seattle, and their father, Claude Alick, is a Missoula writer and a beloved former bartender at the Golden Rose. As a student at Hellgate High School, Alick started the Black Student Union. It was abandoned after she graduated, but during her time with it she pushed for awareness. She helped lead an experiment at the high school to talk about race where students wore different colored shirts so they could imagine the experience of being marginalized. She and the union also contacted members of the Ku Klux Klan to come talk with Hellgate students.
"There was a reason I was doing all of that work," she adds. "I go back to Missoula every year because I love it there. But my experience was also informed by racism in all of the different forms it comes in—somebody throwing a bottle at my head, having a horrible hate-filled pamphlet on my doorstep or just having a teacher assume I wasn't going to be good enough. Implicit bias, extreme racism—all of these come together to create the American Experience."
Alick wrote a one-minute play for Every 28 Hours titled "All Convenience," in which actors try to decide what to do as a Kwik-E Mart burns down.
"One of them is discussing whether the fire is dangerous and another wants to study the particulates," Alick says. "All the while the store is burning. Finally someone gets a hose. And the joke is: All convenience stores matter."
Alick wanted to called the project Every 28 Hours as a nod to the statistic that every 28 hours an unarmed black person is killed by a police officer. That number, which came from a report authored through the Malcolm X Grassroots Project, has been contested in media outlets. The methodology might be wrong. The number might be 32, not 28.
Whatever the case may be, Alick says, the point is, again, being missed.
"I think that's part of what the plays are about," she says. "It's about the conversation the United States is having to grapple with. Because, I mean, every 28 hours? Every 48 hours? Every 98 hours? How many hours does it need to be? It's nice to be able to do these plays because we are making visible the national wound that, if you are a person of color, you have never been not aware of. And black people can see, brown people can see, how this is hurting all of us."
Visit osfashland.org for more info on the project and to donate.