November 30, 2023

ABOVE PHOTO: ‘Be Holding’ is staged on the court docket within the Girard School Armory  (Picture by Ryan Collerd) 

By Constance Garcia-Barrio

Into this season that finds so many Black households grieving comes the manufacturing of Ross Homosexual’s book-length poem, “Be Holding,” like shimmering hope. 

Staged within the large gymnasium/armory at Girard School — “It’s a cool efficiency house,” Homosexual mentioned — this world premiere and operatic efficiency invitations the viewers to seek out pleasure of their lives by caring for one another within the midst of tragedy.

“Be Holding”, which runs by way of June 3, provides Philadelphians a uncommon alternative for collective therapeutic.

“We’ve developed the present over two-and-a-half years,” mentioned director Brooke O’Harra, an expert theatre director, artist, and school member within the College of Pennsylvania Theatre Arts Division. “This present will tour world wide for a few years.”

David Gaines (Picture by Ryan Collerd)

Homosexual has Philly roots — together with numerous native playground basketball and a Ph.D. from Temple — however his work has additionally earned nationwide acclaim. In 2015, he received the Nationwide Guide Critics Circle Award for “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” considered one of his 4 revealed poetry collections, and in 2019, “The Guide of Delights,” a ebook of essays, was a New York Instances bestseller. 

“Be Holding,” revealed in 2020, received the PEN American Literary Jean Stein Award.

The script of “Be Holding” consists of the textual content of the poem. Within the opening second, Dr. J., a.okay.a. Julius Erving, a member of the Philadelphia 76ers from 1976 to 1987 and thought of one of many NBA’s biggest gamers of all time, soars in sport 4 of the 1980 NBA Finals between the Sixers and the LA Lakers to make a basket:

and so Doc leapt,

he left his ft

which implies kind of leaping with the ball

with nowhere to go, and which

we’re warned towards by coaches from day one (p.7)

Girard School college students helped develop unique choreography for ‘Be Holding’ (Picture by Ryan Collerd)

“I grew up within the Philly space,” mentioned Homosexual, who reminds the viewers of Black genius and pleasure all through the textual content.  “I used to be an actual fan of the Sixers. My dad would have been watching that sport if he might. It’s a second of profound, lovely improvisation, of genius.”  The poem, on the outset, is sown with the names and stats of different stellar gamers:

Kareem, among the best defenders of all time

5 time NBA All-Defensive first crew

6 time NBA All-Defensive second crew (p. 11)

Homosexual features a scene the place Black pleasure collides with white neighbors’ protests:

on the court docket at tenth and Lombard

the place these within the know

would slide by way of a niche

within the grimace of the wrought iron gate

to get in, a court docket that will be in time

shut down in essentially the most heinous

of the way—eradicating the edges—

the backboards as lonely as gravestones—

due to complaints to the town

from rental homeowners

throughout the road

who didn’t need to hear god forbid

all that Negro gathering

and celebration and care and delight (p. 15)

“Be Holding” ranges from Dr. J’s beautiful sport to household reminiscences to horror and again. For instance, the poem considers the shot photographer Stanley Forman took of a 19-year-old Black girl and her two-year-old niece falling 5 flights from a collapsed fireplace escape to the road. The girl died, however Forman obtained the Pulitzer Prize for Spot Information Pictures for 1975 and later made the image of the girl plunging to her loss of life the central picture on the quilt of his ebook “Earlier than Yellow Tape,” which paperwork fires:

for he was merely

doing his job

including his small work

his contact

to the museum

of black ache

Such moments of tragedy can deepen Black folks’s capability to look after one another, Homosexual believes. 

“I’m considering our capability for tenderness, our capability for love,” he mentioned. “I feel the poem revels in how we look after each other, noticing and celebrating how we look after each other. We’re speaking about how we regard one another, how we don’t flip away from one another’s devastation.”

“Be Holding” ends as Dr. J, after unimaginable strikes, sends the ball crusing by way of the web in a reverse layup.

Two Philadelphia poets—Yolanda Wisher and David Gaines—will learn the poem in the course of the efficiency, their voices and actions braiding the weather of the staging, which incorporates video projections, whereas the viewers can observe the phrases on screens set across the fitness center.

Yolanda Wisher — educator and spoken phrase artist, chosen as Philadelphia’s third poet laureate in 2016 — has greater than a passing acquaintance with hoops.

“I’m a basketball participant,” mentioned Wisher, who, in her freshman yr at Lafayette School appeared on monitor for a profession within the sport. At Lafayette, she met Homosexual, a number of years forward of her. 

“My mother and pop met at Millersville enjoying basketball,” she mentioned. “After I stopped enjoying it was an enormous disappointment for [my mother].” Wisher, the creator of “Monk Eats His Afro,” additionally has a band — Yolanda Wisher & The Afroeaters.

The prospect to work on “Be Holding” got here at simply the suitable time for poet, actor, and filmmaker David Gaines.

“This manufacturing got here at some extent after I was changing into nihilistic,” mentioned Gaines, who has a movie within the Black Star Movie Pageant in August. “There are such a lot of grieving Black households. Pleasure felt type of naïve. Pleasure felt type of immature. Pleasure for Black folks is a radical act. It’s given me choices. I can select pleasure. I can select to see issues as apart from a hellscape.”

Yolanda Wisher performs the textual content of Ross Homosexual’s poem, ‘Be Holding’ (Picture by Ryan Collerd)

Tyshawn Sorey, present presidential assistant professor of Music on the College of Pennsylvania and composer-in-residence at Opera Philadelphia, was the composer for “Be Holding.” Sorey acquired a MacArthur genius grant in 2017. The efficiency additionally options music from Yarn/Wire, a quartet that features girls, LGBTQIA performers, and musicians of shade. 

“We’re actively curious and in love with music,” their web site states.

Eight Girard School college students, Stephan Philemon amongst them, have additionally had a hand within the manufacturing. 

“I’ve been engaged on the present since November of 2022,” Philemon mentioned. “I’m a performing artist. I’ve performed piano on the Kimmel Middle and on Temple’s campus. I plan to main in music concept, training, and biology.”

The manufacturing’s ultimate model holds a thriller for even Homosexual.

“By the point I get there for the efficiency, it will likely be as new to me as it’s to you,” he mentioned. “It’s a type of translation with music and different media. I don’t know what the piece as an entire goes to be.”

Wisher hopes that “Be Holding” provides a pathway inward, “I need the viewers to have the expertise of going deep,” she mentioned. “This might be a soul-opening expertise.”

Public performances will happen from June 1 by way of June 3, at Girard School, positioned at 2101 S. School Avenue. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Please go to: or name: (215) 787-2600 for extra info.