Black When I Was a Boy Part I - Sage Black Productions

Reviewed By Kelly Luck

In this reviewer’s years of attending Fringe, she cannot recall ever seeing a two-part performance before, but Cooper Bates’ spoken word performance, “Black When I Was a Boy, Part 1” is merely the first half of a story continued in his second show at Fringe, “Blacked Out” (see separate review). In this autobiographical tale, Mr. Bates takes us through his childhood in rural Kansas, growing up the only black child in a small town. He journeys from the innocence of youth through a series of incidents that teach him the realities of being black in a world of white. Over time, he finds ways of dealing with the slings and arrows that come his way, and along the way discovers the power that comes from being on stage and creating a character.


Mr. Bates is an excellent storyteller and brings the various characters to life with ease. The story is by turns humorous, harrowing, infuriating, and uplifting. There are scenes of racial violence in the performance but given the subject matter this is sadly inevitable.


As an aside, as this reviewer was composing this review, she kept thinking back to the climax (in which Bates finds himself in a sundown town) and the current controversy around a certain country song. As someone who grew up an outsider in small-town America herself, she naturally has a lot to say on the subject, but Mr. Bates’ performance is probably as good a rebuttal of that song and the sentiments behind it as one is likely to find. Recommended.

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P.O. Box 415001
Kansas City, MO 64141-5001