Let’s set the stage for the new production of “Flex” at Theatrical Outfit: In a rural town in Arkansas, five young Black female basketball players have dreams of going professional, but first, they must navigate the complex world around them. Will they make a slam dunk and succeed, or foul out? “Flex” by Candrice Jones is on stage through Oct. 2 in the Balzer Theater at Herren’s in Downtown Atlanta. Director Patdro Harris joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom along with actor Hailey Elizabeth, who portrays the character Starra.
How the play’s structure aligns with the actual game of basketball:
“‘Flex’ is a basketball offense’s term, so it’s a scheme of how to play basketball on the Offensive side of the ball,” explained Harris. “It’s often associated with the ‘replacement’ system. One person has the ball. They passed the ball so quickly that the opponents can’t keep up with it, and they often say it in the play – ‘Flex!'”
“Basketball is broken up into quarters. You have four quarters in a basketball game, and so the way that Ms. Candrice has set up this play is, we do have Quarters instead of, I guess you can say, acts or scenes. We have a first quarter, a first-quarter break where we kind of slow it down and have more of a heart-to-heart moment. We have a second quarter… Instead of it being intermission, it’s actually a half-time where we’re all hanging out at a really fun place, relaxing,” said Elizabeth. “Then we go into a third quarter, third quarter break, fourth quarter, fourth quarter break, and then we finally have an overtime, which is not guaranteed in every game, but if you get it, it’s the best way to end any kind of basketball game.”
Playwright Jones’ home state of Arkansas, the setting for “Flex:”
“It’s a sense of community. In the South, we relate to people differently, especially Black culture, and it’s very African for us that the community pitches in… The old saying is, ‘It takes a village to raise one person,’ and that is true, and definitely in the South, and especially in Arkansas, where Candrice has given us this wonderful metaphor about us connecting and being connected to the dirt,” said Harris. “In the play, we talk about, ‘Does this dirt get on me?’ Because Starra, or the lead character played by Hailey, talks about ‘The dirt is all on me, outside on the dirt court, but it’s also inside of us.’ Things grow from the dirt. Dirt is wonderful, and you can’t live without the dirt.”
Starra’s basketball dreams, challenged by Humble Origins and patriarchy:
“Starra, she is a fiery, aggressive, assertive, relentless, young Black teenage girl, and she is so determined to make it to the WNBA. This play takes place in the 1990s when the WNBA just started, and so there is this Relentless attitude that she has about making it into this organization,” Elizabeth said. “In Arkansas, a lot of young Black teenagers felt that they needed some kind of ticket or some type of opportunity to help them get out of that more rural environment and get to a bigger, maybe urban community, or something that can kind of get them into a next level. Basketball, for a lot of us, is our ticket out.”
“There are a lot of themes about Women’s bodies – what we can and cannot do, this ability to be pregnant and move mountains, or the choice of whether or not to have a baby or not, whether we can be professional Athletes or not. You know, we have all these conversations even now about WNBA players not getting paid enough. We have conversations about abortion that are happening right now; a lot of themes are relevant to what we see on the news today,” said Elizabeth. “I would say Candrice has given us a Timeless play.”
Theatrical Outfit’s “Flex” is on stage now through Oct. 2 at the Balzer Theater at Herren’s. Tickets and more information are available at https://www.theatricaloutfit.org/shows/flex/.