Howard University grad Cleavon Meabon IV describes himself as a “Renaissance Man” — embracing the gambit of today’s technological wonders to secure and expand his professional portfolio that includes accomplishments as an entrepreneur, photographer, musician and playwright.
The Arkansas native, just 25, has already made his mark in Atlanta, producing some of the biggest-staged performances “Hot-lanta” has ever seen. There his business savvy and accomplishments in the film industry soon led him to take on casting and managing, using his talents in the support of shows including “All Eyez on Me,” “Greenleaf,” “Selma” and “Being Mary Jane.”
He recently returned to the city of his alma mater eager to become a leader within the District’s theatrical scene while also focusing on moving up the ranks of the locally-based multimedia company, Urban One, Inc., with whom he’s currently employed.
Now, he’s poised to present a play he both wrote and directed and for which he composed and arranged the music that runs March 11 -24 at THEARC’s Black Box Theater in Southeast.
“Breathe: The Musical,” tells the story of a Black family seeking refuge from the pain associated with America’s violent, racial climate and the tenuous tightrope they walk while attempting to overcome the many closed doors and towering hurdles long-supported by generations of white supremacy.
Meabon, who called on his former classmates to assemble his cast, said the play began to take shape following his reflections on the exploitation of black bodies and the horror he experienced after viewing photographs of the hangings of Blacks — both of which he believes have become “normalized” in the American psyche.
“We see those pictures but rarely stop to consider who the victims of those crimes were or how their families were effected,” he said. “That’s what made the story come to life. The tagline we use, ‘we’ve got stories to tell,’ came about because my great-grandparents were sharecroppers, like the Jones family in the play.”
“I did my research on anti-lynching advocates like Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois and Madame C.J. Walker,” he said. “I looked at places like Rosewood where lies became the justification for multiple lynchings. I chose to include five midwives, the ghosts of historic lynching victims, as characters in the play because of the significant role that African deities and spiritualism once played in the healing of our ancestors. Blacks today don’t realize their importance, nor do we understand how much we’ve lost after allowing whites to control our spirituality. Whites took the magic away from us.”
Meabon said he doesn’t want audiences to be overly concerned about either the time or space in which the production has been set, adding, “examples of violence occurred so frequently and in so many different places that it would be impossible to limit a story about them to just one setting.”
“Considering what’s going on today. The only difference I can see is that America doesn’t use ropes anymore,” he said. “But we are still suffering, we’re still victims and we still face brutality, not from slave masters like in the past but rather from the police.”
He says he plans to revolutionize black theater in the District and provide a new image of Black excellence. And, based on the over one million impressions he and his team have already secured which he emphasizes “are far better than many mainstream theaters,” it appears that he’s well on his way.
Kayla Dickson, another Howard grad and classmate, serves as the lead in the play.
“She immediately came to mind when I began to think about my leading lady,” he said. “She’s done an impeccable job in rehearsals. She can sing, dance, she’s gorgeous and she owns her beautiful dark skin like no one I’ve ever seen before.”
“She will undoubtedly become the next ingénue in the D.C. theatrical world,” he said.
For more information or tickets, visit www.breathe-themusical.com.