Playwright Carleton Bluford
is from North Ogden, Utah. He started writing while attending Weber State University, where he was instrumental in starting the student-run 10-minute play festival and the student-written One Act Festival called “Voices.” MAMA, his first full-length play, was produced by Plan-B Theatre in 2015 as Utah’s first world premiere by a Black playwright. His play “Niggah” was read as part of the Edward Lewis Black Theatre Festival. And at Plan-B, his plays “Breathe,” (part of the Utah AIDS Foundation/Plan-B AIDS plays) and THE PRIESTHOOD were workshopped as part of the Script-In-Hand Series, and his short plays “Passenger” and “Dinner” premiered as part of (IN)DIVISIBLE.
While in rehearsal for THE CLEAN-UP PROJECT, Carleton will narrate Utah Symphony's "Encore: A Celebration of Black Symphonic Music" educational concerts, for which he co-wrote the script.
The following appears in the February 2022 issue of Catalyst Magazine
THE CLEAN-UP PROJECT began as a journal entry in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. I told Jerry Rapier at Plan-B Theatre that I was trying to make sense of my feelings and he said he thought it could be a very provocative play.
As we began to develop what would become THE CLEAN-UP PROJECT, I wondered out loud if it would be obsolete by the time it was produced. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
The hardest part of writing this play was hearing about horrible thing after horrible thing happening to a person of color and debating whether or not to include it. If I had added every event from then until now, I have no doubt that we’d be looking at a five-hour drama.
Plan-B provided an opportunity to workshop the play a little over a year ago. I entered that process with just an idea, a setting, and characters. But everyone involved helped bring out what I actually wanted to say. My process of writing this play directly mirrors what I was going through in my life, in real time. I had a lot of feelings but didn’t quite know how to express them or what people would think of me if I did. This struggle in central to the play.
Chris: I don’t know what will happen to you if you say no to this.
Jordan: But I know what will happen to me If I say yes.
Ryan: Every generation has a choice, we have to start somewhere and we are doing our best to start. New. With us.
Editing my speech and behavior to not anger another person is exhausting. Speaking candidly is something I’m just now learning to do and Jordan represents that in the play.
I needed to illuminate how infuriating it is for another person to comment on your actions, say they understand how you feel, but then labeling any action you take as violence. It’s reminiscent of being in the backseat of a car with your sibling and they keep tapping you with their index finger on the forehead. You know you’re not supposed to get angry, you tell your parents, and they are supposed to tell your sibling to stop. But after your sibling keeps doing it, even though they were told to stop, you get angry and you hit them, or you yell, or you cry, and then you both get in trouble.
But in this situation, it’s like one of your parents is the one smacking you in the face while the other parent drives the car, trying not to look. Your sibling stares out the window pretending that they don’t see it or they start yelling, “Hey, stop that!” for a few hours until they get tired, or they whisper that they understand what you’re going through and they hate it, in-between smacks. And when you have finally had enough, you get out of the car at a red light, pick up rocks, and throw them at the car, screaming and crying and leaving dents. Everyone in the car says “Hey, I know you don’t like being smacked, I understand that, but now you’ve dented the car! You’re causing real damage, come on, get back in the car and we’ll stop hitting you in the face.”
It sounds ridiculous but it’s hard not to be really, really angry at and hurt by everyone in that car. The car should immediately stop and everyone should confront the parent doing the smacking: “You’ve been slapping him for over 400 years. Try a different method. Hopefully one that doesn’t result in a black eye…or death.”
This is my play. Empathy. You don’t really know what it’s like to be slapped in the face for more than 400 years until it (metaphorically) happens to you.
THE CLEAN-UP PROJECT implores people to act, and to continue to act, until the job is done: to create hope for the future, and to caution ourselves against what we can become if we fall backward into the old way and do not push forward toward a new normal.
The following appears in the February 2022 issue of QSaltLake Magazine
I have felt my entire life that it was my duty to hold space for and watch myself around white people. Whenever I enter a room, I speak well, look presentable, and put everyone at ease so they didn’t feel threatened. But none of that changes my Black skin.
One of my first great fears that continued to be weird into adulthood was going swimming with my friends, simply because I knew that when I took my shirt off, they would see that I was all the way Black.
This has been my daily reality for 37 years and I am tired. I have spent my entire life making sure other people (mostly white people) feel safe around me and that is clearly not being reciprocated for me and people like me. People simply don’t care if I feel safe. And if they do, it’s only as long as the trend allows. It’s enough for them to feel, deep down, that things aren’t right, but that’s as far as it ever goes. I understand, fighting for equality and justice is physically and emotionally taxing. People like me have been doing it our whole lives and would very much like to stop. But we don’t yet have that option.
My play THE CLEAN-UP PROJECT started as a journal entry. I was trying to make sense of my feelings about the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and everything that ensued. I shared my thoughts with Jerry Rapier at Plan-B Theatre and he said, “You should write a play.” I truly believe that he, as a person of color, saw an opportunity to give another person of color the chance to express himself without “asking permission” to do so. He provided me a space to be angry, to talk it out, and for that I am grateful.
I’m asking a lot of the audience. But I’m not asking anything of them that I don’t experience on the daily. The difference? After 90 minutes in the theatre, they get to go home and breathe.
I distinctly remember being shown, as a child, the violence of Black people swinging by their necks from trees, Black people being beaten, hosed down by firemen. I had to see these things so that I could truly understand what my parents meant when they said to be careful not to put myself in situations where I could be hurt. None of my white friends had to have a similar conversation with their parents.
Jordan: Why does this have to be a violent cause? /There’s so much we could do…
Chris: /They made it violent as soon as they hung us in trees, burned down our stock markets, stole our culture and sold it, and condemned us for being angry about it. This is what happens when nobody listens.
Nothing will change until the people in power care enough to change it. And that means a lot more people caring about the lives of people other than themselves. That means marching and protesting until things actually change, not just until you’re tired.
I read an article a long time ago about Walmart, and how they only had a tiny section of healthy food, and didn’t care about people’s health. Walmart responded that they sell what people buy. If more people bought healthy food, they’d make more would be available.
The same principal applies here: if enough people want racial equality and justice, then America has to put more of that on the shelves, right?
It makes me angry that I ever thought that I was most useful to people by being completely amenable and submissive. “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it and I’ll improve it too, I’ll be your number one guy and (in retrospect), give you all of my power.”
That is something WE can no longer abide.
THE CLEAN-UP PROJECT is my attempt to rally the troops, to galvanize people to act on the proclamations made from their sofas during the pandemic. We must connect, now, when it is so painful to see eye to eye. We cannot go back to the old way. We must create a new normal. It’s the only way to create hope for the future, to even have a future.