After enduring the atrocities of enslavement for 33 years, culminating with the sale of his wife and three children by their slaveholder, Henry "Box" Brown resolves to free himself by any means available. In his case, it meant mailing himself from Virginia to Philadelphia.
With the help of friends and abolitionists, Brown formulated the plan for his escape to freedom by having himself nailed in a box roughly 3 feet long by 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide. In this manner for 27 hours in 1849 he was transported from a state that believed in the enslavement of people of African descent to one that believed in their freedom.
The escape and Brown’s life’s work as an abolitionist and performer (as a magician for some time), is the subject of “Blackbox,” a play at UC Riverside set for October 5-14 at the campus’ University Theatre. The performance is an epic poem with magic and gospel, adapted by Rickerby Hinds, professor of playwriting in UCR’s Department of Theatre, Film, and Digital Production.
Hinds is offering Inland Empire audiences the opportunity to see this compelling moment in American history through his play, which has been commissioned by Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., as part of its inaugural Lincoln Legacy Commissions for the 2024-25 season.
“A re-envisioning of the box in which Henry spent 27 hours on his way to freedom … allows me to address some of the horrors of Henry’s life in a ‘spectacular’ way,” Hinds said.
The play premieres at UCR, a place that for Hinds holds personal significance.
“The importance of premiering Blackbox at UCR, on the very stage where I wrote and directed my first play, cannot be overstated,” Hinds said. “I am a playwright and professor because of UCR. The University Theatre is where I discovered my passion for the stage and the page.”
Hinds learned of Brown’s story many years back and first made a reference to it in his play “Straight From Tha Underground” in 1998.
“Henry Box Brown’s story as told in his narratives is naturally dramatic with compelling subtextual commentary on the American institution of slavery as well as the distorted use of Christianity and religion as a tool for the oppression of millions of human beings... who happen to look like me,” Hinds said.
Hinds envisions “Blackbox” at Ford’s Theatre, Broadway, and then on tour.
Hinds said he has been working with several school districts and is expecting more than 700 students from area schools to attend the UCR performances.
“BlackBox” is directed by Thomas F. DeFrantz. Scenic design is by Christopher Scott Murillo; costume design by Landis Maren York; lighting design by Ben Tusher; sound design by Jeremiah Turner; music directed by Jasmine Gatewood; video design by Fallon Williams; magic consultant is Naathan Phan.
Cast: Andrew Hardin as Henry Box Brown; Jasmine Gatewood as Spirit. Understudies: Josiah Alpher as Henry Box Brown; and Jada Ramsey as Spirit.
Dates: October 5-14
Location: UCR's University Theatre
Time: All shows are at 8 p.m. Audience can stay for a talkback with the dramaturg and members of the cast and production team following the October 13 performance. Matinee: Saturday, Oct. 14, 2:30 p.m.
$15 general; $12 students, UCR alumni cardholders, senior citizens, and children. Purchase tickets: events.ucr.edu.
Phone orders and customer service: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; (909) 227-4788; email: email@example.com. For advanced in-person ticket purchases please email Isabel Edwards (firstname.lastname@example.org) to arrange a day/time.
The box office at the theatre will open one hour prior to each performance for in-person ticket purchases and will- call ticket pickup.
When: Friday, Oct. 6, 6:30 p.m.
Meet playwright Rickerby M. Hinds, and Daryle Williams, professor of history and dean of UCR's College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at a preshow reception. Registration is required.
Where: UCR's Barn Theater. Performance of "Blackbox" follows at 8 p.m. at University Theatre
Tickets: $10. Proceeds from this event will benefit Black Alumni Chapter Scholarship and CHASS Dean’s Scholarship Fund. Register: events.ucr.edu.
University Theatre is located near parking lot 6. Parking is free in lot 6 Blue (unreserved spaces only) for Friday and Saturday performances. For Thursday night performances parking is available in lot 6 Blue for $8. Thursday night parking must be purchased in advance as there are no onsite parking attendants.
Parking is also free in Gold lots (26, 30, and 50) weekdays after 6 p.m. Click to view a campus parking map here.