MCA Chicago Presents POOR PEOPLE’S TV ROOM Review: Imaginative and Politically Driven Art on the MCA Stage

Okwui Okpokwasili's Poor People’s TV Room Ian Douglas

Walking into the MCA Stage, the audience quickly realizes that the performance has already begun. Four women move about the stage – while they share a space, they all seem to exist within their own worlds. Minutes go by, audience members take their seats, and the movement continues. Eventually one becomes used to the movement as a background element, and only then does everything quickly shift. A drumming ensues, and the movement that was so distinct for each performer suddenly switches to a uniform rhythm. With that, the audience is ready, and the piece begins.

Poor People’s TV Room at the MCA: An Interdisciplinary Experience

Bessie Award-winning artist and United States Artist Fellow Okwui Okpokwasili, in collaboration with director-designer Peter Born bring a one-of-a-kind experience to the MCA. Utilizing choreography, music, text, and film, the team examines the definitions of gender, identity, and culture in both a local and global context, as well as across history.  Joining Okpokwasili on the stage are three performers of different generations – Thuli Dumakude, Katrina Reid, and Nehemoyia Young.  Each ensemble member shares a powerful and emotionally charged performance – which especially becomes especially clear in the silent moments of the modern-dance choreography. The ending result is a complex look at history across ages and disciplines, which allows every audience member to make their own connections within the piece as well.

Okwui Okpokwasili's Poor People’s TV Room Ian Douglas

Creative Art-Making

 The design of the piece itself almost acts like an art installation, which adds another fascinating level to the performance. The performers move about the open space on the stage to dance, which is marked off by white fabric that has a touch of distorted transparency in the material. Performers move in and out of the backdrop, which allows the opportunity to disappear and reappear when needed – which helps emphasize the theme of invisibility.

Performance view of Okwui Okpokwasili: Poor People’s TV Room at MCA Chicago Nathan Keay

In addition, there is a raised platform on which a chair lies on its side. At first glance this piece can be overlooked; however, once the performance begins, a camera turns on, creating a bird’s-eye-view of the platform. Suddenly the chair on its side looks right-side-up with the new perspective, and the platform turns into a TV room, and the events within are broadcast onto a television screen above. The impact is wild, and exciting to watch as the artists interact with the piece.

Create Your Own Story

 At any given point in the performance, multiple forms of storytelling could be used at the same time – such as two performers dancing while two others sharing conversation, or one singing while others move. With so much action occurring at once, it is impossible to take everything in, but that appears to be part of the exciting challenge.

Okpokwasili creates the opportunity for each audience member to create their own experience. Among many topics, this artist is exploring the loss of memory and invisibility, and includes elements about the Women’s War of 1929, and the Boko Haram kidnappings of more than 300 girls in 2014 within the text.  As such, every monologue shared is about pain and suffering for women in the past and present, and how memory plays into that - how we remember pain, whether consciously or subconsciously. In conjunction with each of the monologues, one can look to see silent scenes occurring through dance around the speaker, which heightens the emotional depth of the moment. Much like remembering history, the ending result is a stunning piece that occurs in fragments, which adds to the overall theme.

Original and artistically creative, Okpokwasili’s piece makes the perfect addition for this season at the MCA Stage.


Performance view of Okwui Okpokwasili: Poor People’s TV Room at MCA Chicago Nathan Keay
Okwui Okpokwasili's Poor People’s TV Room Paul B. Goode


Playing through April 15, 2018

Thursday at 7:30pm
Friday at 7:30pm
Saturday at 7:30pm
Sunday at 2:00pm

Run Time: 90 minutes, without intermission.


For tickets and information, visit the show page on the MCA website.


MCA Chicago
220 E Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611

Photo Credit:

Nathan Keay, Paul B. Goode, and Ian Douglas



About the Author: 

Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters. 

Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.


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