Wrong Place for the Right People (working title) – Temujin Gill and Laurence Corns
It’s 1937 in segregated America where the Jim Crow laws across society are rife. A talented group of politically conscious artists and activists are drawn to a unique oasis of tolerance and entertainment, Café Society. They are all on a path fighting for social change and racial equality. One shining beacon, Bayard Rustin, a particularly charismatic and infectious character, is determined to take American society head on and mobilize a nation.
Together with socialist mentors, union man A Phillip Randolf and clergyman A J Muste, they plan a March on Washington, 22 years before Martin Luther King's 'I have a Dream' speech. The clock is ticking though for the Café Society activists with the creation of the House of Un-American Activities. Homosexuality is still a crime in the US and Bayard with his pre-1941 communist party connections, gay relationships with white men and tendency to promiscuity, is attracting the attention of the FBI and conservative Christians and at risk of destroying the dream. Will his resolve, charm, self-belief and intellect be enough to weather the storm?
Wrong Place for the Right People is a music, dance and theatre production about the early political and social life of Bayard Rustin. It’s an inspiring untold story of civil rights, cultural expression and self-determination where love, conflict and betrayal play out in 1940s Café Society against the cultural backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance.
The production opens with two black male dancers performing a frenetic Lindy Hop in silhouette, gradually turning intimate, tender and sensual. Suddenly crowds rush the two shouting obscenities and throwing kicks and punches, in the mayhem one of the characters is hustled into a cab. On the radio is a speech by A Phillip Randolf, talking passionately about black workers rights, the cab pulls to a halt outside a club. He enters and is met by Barney Josephson, the Jewish club owner come political agitator, who welcomes him to Café Society. The year is 1937, Bayard Rustin, a black man from West Chester, Pennsylvania, has arrived in New York and a hotbed of cultural and political change. Brought up by Quaker and social activist Grandmother Julia Davis (NAACP), he now finds himself in at the heart of tectonic change in American society, confronted by the opportunity to take part in the arguably one of the greatest social movements in modern history, committed to the cause of non-violent protest whilst also fighting to maintain his own personal freedom of expression as a gay black man.
We follow Rustin's incredible journey, where he finds himself put in prison for his pacifism, embarking on a nationwide 'Journey of Reconciliation' at a time when it was illegal for blacks and whites to sit together on public transport, and confronting brutality while trying to bring Gandhi's principles of peaceful protest to the streets and political corridors of American society. In parallel he's performing in a Broadway musical with Paul Robeson and supporting himself by singing at Café Society with such legendary figures as Josh White and Leadbelly.
Inspired by how entertainment and expression, from early Jazz to Hip Hop, have evolved alongside societal changes, Laurence Corns and Temujin Gill have come together to envisage this production about a person who’s life an as artist, entertainer, intellectual and activist firmly puts him alongside the likes of Langston Hughes, Billie Holiday, Martin Luther King and Gandhi.
© Copyright Temujin Gill