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Arts Eclectic turns the spotlight on happenings in the arts and culture scene in and around the Austin area. Through interviews with local musicians, dancers, singers, and artists, Arts Eclectic aims to bring locals to the forefront and highlight community cultural events.Support for Arts Eclectic comes from Broadway Bank.

'They save us every time': 'Ballot Eats The Bullet: U Matter!' celebrates Black women

The cast of 'Ballot Eats The Bullet: U Matter'
Ali Hopson
From right to left: Chelsea Manasseri, Amaiya Byrd, Jennine "Doc" Krueger, Amara Johnson

“We've done the show before,” says Zell Miller III about his show Ballot Eats The Bullet, now being re-staged in a updated version as Ballot Eats The Bullet: U Matter! “And when I originally did the script, I worked with a couple of female writers [Lisa B. Thompson, Anne Maria Wynter, and Ebony Stewart] because I didn't feel as a man, I should be… telling women’s stories. And then my amazing partner, Ashley Miller, was like, ‘Who is better to speak for women than you? All you do is fight for women, especially Black women.’”

“He absolutely fights for black women and champions black women,” agrees Chelsea Manasseri, who appeared in the 2016 of the show and returns for Ballot Eats The Bullet: U Matter!. “I was absolutely thrilled to be involved the first time and I'm thrilled to be back this time. It's just a celebration of Black women and our lives and our experiences and it's just super important.”

“Originally, it was called Ballad Eats the Bullet. And so I wanted to add the semicolon U Matter, exclamation point because it's sad that we continue – as Black people, we have to actually say out loud that we matter and that we're worthy. And so that was very important, especially given that Black women are still the most silent voice in American history. And so we wanted to overtake Black History Month, we're calling it Black Her Story Month. Because Black women… they save us every time and they never get credit for it.”

Manasseri is the only performer returning from the original 2016 production, and she says she’s happy to be working with Miller again. “I trust him with work like this and I know that he's got our best interests in heart,” she says. “It is a little bit different than we did originally. Seven years ago, there were six women and now there's four. So we all have a little bit more of a load in terms of lines and speaking. But I really like the vibe of it this time. I loved the vibe of it last time. I love the vibe of it this time.”

Miller says his favorite part of revisiting Ballad Eats the Bullet has been working with the performers in this production (Manasseri, Jennine “Doc” Krueger, Amara Johnson, and Amaiya Byrd). “Just getting to hear the experiences and the stories that I think are coming to light, I feel like this piece is covering a lot of topics that are taboo. We go really in depth with it [but] people shouldn't be afraid because there's a lot of humor in it as well. And I think that's the beauty being the child of a Black mom. Like we [went] through things, but she always had a humor about it. And that is something magical that Black women can do and it just kind of breaks the whole thing up. So that's been my favorite – just to be able to collaborate with these amazing performers.”

“One of my favorite things about this process is whenever Zell gets really excited and he's like, 'Oh man, that was, that was really good,'” Manasseri says, laughing. “And we're like 'You wrote it. Yes, of course it's good.' He acts surprised like he's hearing it for the first time.”

“The four voices… they sync so beautifully, and so it’s interesting sitting there as a director,” Miller responds. “And I wrote the script, yeah, but when I see them… sometimes in rehearsal, I honestly just get lost and I'm just like listening and then they'll look at me and go, ‘So what do you think?’ It's so engaging that I honestly, sometimes I get lost and I don't know what page we're on.”

'Ballot Eats The Bullet: U Matter!' runs February 22 - March 9 at Hyde Park Theatre.

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces and hosts This Is My Thing and Arts Eclectic, and also produces Get Involved and the Sonic ID project. When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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