If Keith Mascoll and his Boston-based Team Triggered aren’t on your radar just yet, there’s a solid chance that they will capture your attention in 2019. On the strength of a successful three-day run of their “collaborative, multimedia, multi-sensory, empathy-generating” show at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury last March, they’re taping a one-night-only performance of John Oluwole Adekoje’s Triggered at the BCA this month and are planning a full run in Boston later this year. We asked Mascoll, who plays both of the play’s two characters, about the growth and development of his project and the challenge of sparking discussions about trauma in the black community.
The big centerpiece here is that “while the visibility of what we call ‘trauma’ has become more tangible as of late, the visibility of black male trauma remains elusive.” Since there is seemingly so much in this regard that is elusive, how have you and your creative partners along the way gone about selecting narratives that will cover a lot of ground?
Our first step is to acknowledge the historical impact on the definition of black masculinity which have connections to the legacies of post-slavery contexts. This first step is critical to ensure that black/brown men are able to connect to the intergenerational context, to begin to externalize their working definitions of masculinity. Secondly, the character of Malik is a composite of real men of color’s stories over a number of years from our psychologist consultant, so we are able to make sure the narrative is authentic. The other character, Keith, is my own personal story as a survivor. The combination of two completely different characters and their narratives helps the audience find a story they can relate to.
With the Catholic Church being so notorious around here for its abuse of predominantly white boys, especially in cases that have made headlines, has that story in any way overshadowed comparable horrors in communities of color?
I would not say that it overshadowed the horrors in communities of color; it tucked it away even more. If anyone stepped up and spoke out, would any news outlet or anyone else care? This is a conversation nobody in our community wants to have, and it’s just hard for men and men of color to talk about.
We have a system problem similarly to the Catholic church. Realistically, are there more male victims of color in the Catholic Church community and we just don’t know because they do not disclose? … There are more questions than answers until we create space for men of color to feel safe to disclose and anticipate a helpful supportive response.
Systems of care are not set up, either specifically for men, or that readily welcome men in general. Men of color do not trust any of those systems and/or its practitioners, including doctors, police, or clinicians. There is there no faith that anything is going to change, and many times mental health providers are not always men.
You write that Triggered is “more than a play—it’s an inherently collaborative, multimedia, multi-sensory, empathy-generating story.” While it is certainly unique, are there any performances, shows, anything that really served as an inspiration for the format?
Our director/playwright, John Oluwole Adekoje, is a filmmaker, and his plays create incredible images on stage of characters that make it hard to look away from the pain they suffer. When we talked about the project with our psychologist consultant, it was clear that the most important element was to ensure that audience members were able to “see” the trigger happen in the body physically and in the brain. So, we decided to use projection to show the connection between the emotions and triggering events’ impact while the characters are telling stories.
There are many people that really struggle to understand what is happening with survivors internally, and as a result, judgement is created based on society norms and/or expectations, which is often not helpful. … A number of men of color [have] to walk around with unresolved trauma.
Triggered has taken place at the Dudley Library, Hibernian Hall, and now the BCA. How different is the experience in these different venues, and what is it like to adapt in such a nomadic fashion?
The Dudley branch of the Boston Public Library was a[n] open rehearsal that focused on inviting the audience to provide feedback from a community perspective in the beginning stages of development of the first iteration of the script. At Hibernian Hall, we had the capacity to create a[n] “in the round” stage to nurture a deeper level of intimacy between the actor and audience. In turn, the audience could feel the passion of the show and what it felt like physically and emotionally to be inside the minds of the Malik and Keith characters while they told their stories.
John Oluwole Adekoje was committed to bring the same intimate feel of Hibernian Hall to the BCA Wimberly Theatre. This is the magic of Adekoje’s talent, drawing the audience in and leaving very little space for escape emotionally and physically. As we continue to take in feedback from our audience members of color, we make changes to continue to reflect the experiences of the community. We changed the order of the performance, adding new technical gadgets to help the audience distinguish the characters Malik and Keith. John and I have worked together on a one-man show called Love Jones, so we just talk about it and make the organic changes that need to happen. Our Assistant Director Trinidad Ramkissoon is a young, vibrant talent that brings a creative lens to help make the seamless transitions from venue to venue.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the “talkbacks facilitated by mental health clinicians” that follow some performances? How will that look for the Boston performance?
It is so important that as we talk about trauma we are being responsible and acknowledging the audience [and] their own experiences of being triggered. It is also important that we have support of clinicians, which includes licensed social workers, psychologists, advocates, and case managers to grow their own practice to be prepared to service and support men of color.
This is the Triggered Project dedication to creating a system of care that welcomes men of color or evolves to create specified services for men of color. My partner, Roxann Mascoll LCSW, a clinician, leads the conversation at end of the show and guides the audience in discussion to debrief their experience. We will also have other clinicians on site and in the audience if anyone needs support. After decompressing the energy it takes to perform these characters, I usually participate in the talkback with preselected questions, which is important for my own self-care. Finally, there is an open format for audience members.
You are donating part of the proceeds to 1in6, which has a mission of helping men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences live healthier, happier lives. How did you link up with them and why did they seem like the right partner?
We created a resource page on our website which include supportive and/or therapeutic providers which is a responsible way to ensure we are continuing to participate in creating awareness and community around men of color. I researched 1in6.org and their purpose just spoke to me. The services and resources they have for men are amazing, it just seemed like the right to do. I was lucky because I had the support when I was ready to accept it and that made a difference in my life—shouldn’t all men of color have that same opportunity?
I hear there are a lot more tangential projects in the works—a podcast, a longer run. What can you tell us? Especially for people who won’t get to see this one?
Yes, we have a show in Atlanta in April 2019 at the National Association of Black Social Workers 51st Annual Conference, which includes a workshop for clinicians of color specifically. We are having discussions with Greatest Minds located at Georgia State University to bring Triggered to their young students of color.
The podcast is called “Living a Triggered Life,” which will feature myself and my partner Roxann discussing being in a long-term relationship when there are past trauma issues and how we navigate it as a couple. We will have guests and resources for men and women as well. We also have a written curriculum, so we can offer workshops after the show with young people and adults. We will center our work around redefining the narrative, with choices of different activities depending on where each participant is emotionally. We plan to do a full run in Boston next season, and are looking to do a run in New York, LA, and Chicago.
TEAM TRIGGERED. 1.25 AT THE BCA, 527 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. TRIGGERED1.COM