PROVIDENCE — The Wilbury Theatre Group and the Community College of Rhode Island, with support from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, will present a free outdoor screening of Christopher Johnson’s powerful solo work "Invoice for Emotional Labor" at the WaterFire Arts Center this weekend.
Johnson, Wilbury's playwright-in-residence, is an internationally-known poetry slam champion and a former Rhode Island State Council on the Arts playwright fellow.
Each evening he will give a brief introduction to the piece and performance, and before and after each screening, he'll sign copies of his book "Select Essays," taken from the play.
In "Invoice for Emotional Labor," Johnson relives his personal experiences as an African American growing up in New Jersey and living in Providence, educating and inviting viewers into the process by challenging them to rethink preconceived notions on racial etiquette, unconscious bias, and cultural differences through his own unique lens.
Johnson recorded the play in 16 hours over the span of two days. He compares the process to that of an actor or actress “getting into character” for a specific role, the difference being his performance is based on reality, forcing Johnson to relive uncomfortable, traumatizing moments during the production. The performance was filmed at the Bobby Hackett Theater at the Community College of Rhode Island in collaboration with the CCRI Players and CCRI Office of Student Life.
Johnson wrote "Invoice for Emotional Labor" more than a year ago as an “interactive piece” and performed it virtually for the first time in March of 2020 as a live workshop production for the Wilbury Group. Since then, said Wilbury Group Artistic Director Josh Short, “the piece has evolved so much and recent events have informed the work in such a beautiful and powerful way.”
Since teaming with the Wilbury Group in 2017, Johnson has produced several original works, including "Invisible UpSouth" and "New and Dangerous Ideas," and performed in "Decameron, Providence," an outdoor series presented at Providence’s WaterFire Arts Center. Johnson is one of 17 resident artists at the Wilbury Group, which, since its inception in 2010, has provided a platform for many of the area’s groundbreaking artists to engage in both original works and reimagined classics.
Known for his constant evolving style that combines "discord of his past, the wisdom of now and the hope of the future to give voice to a universal message of human spark that connects us all," Johnson uses the intricate combination of academia, hip-hop, traditional storytelling, theater and "just plain old common sense" to provide "a soulful, uplifting experience guaranteed to move his audience through several states of equilibrium, while challenging the listener to remain in an emotional stagnant state," according to a statement from the theater. Johnson organizes spoken-word events, gives workshops on writing, performing and public speaking and growth and empowerment for youth and adults through words. He has been an active community member of Brown University's student spoken word/poetry organization Word! since 2006. In 2010, he was commissioned by Providence's Department of Art Culture and Tourism to write the poem "Providence Divine" to commemorate the city's 375th birthday, and by Brown University in 2012 in celebration of the inauguration of the university's 19th president.
— Nancy Burns-Fusaro