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Clyde Valentín’s latest project hits exceptionally close to home.
“SEED,” an off-Broadway production that is slated to premiere Friday at the National Black Theater in Harlem, explores the unique relationship between a gifted boy from the projects and a city social worker.
“My aunt was a social worker, growing up in NY, and in a lot of ways she kind of provided the opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten,” said Valentín, 40, who is the producer and executive director of Hip-Hop Theater Festival.
“She made sure she could do what she could do to get me into college…without her I don’t really know where my life would’ve been, to be honest.”
"SEED," written by Radha Blank, tells the story of Anne, a veteran social worker, and Chee-Chee, a 12-year-old who enters her life just as she is ready to leave her field.
Through Chee-Chee, the production website says, Anne is "forced to confront his young mother and the shadows of her past."
"Infused with the vibrant rhythm and verse of Hip-Hop culture," the website continues, "SEED" weaves through the fault line of a gentrified Harlem, begging the question: How far you willing to go to protect the future of a community and its children?"
Valentín has been working for the festival for 10 years now. "SEED" caught his eye right away.
“When I first read the script a couple of years ago, I was really excited,” he said. “It felt like that first kind of like 90’s era story on paper, in terms of surviving crackenomics, growth of the prison industrial system, high levels of incarceration in communities of color. All these things are present in the play and its structure with a dramatic story.”
"SEED" has a message for Harlem and the rest of New York City, and Valentín hopes the audience comes away with an inspiration to “do something, about the community that they live in, that the art moves them in a way that creates action.”
Valentín, who is Puerto Rican, firmly believes this play can impact people from a variety of backgrounds.
“African-Americans, Latinos, white kids, Asian kids are all affected by hip-hop culture,” he said. “My co-founder is a Jewish kid, born and raised in New York, our assistant director is of Jamaican descent, born and raised in Chicago. Our festival looks like the playwrights and the audiences we engage.”
Valentín hopes the play will move New York City in a strong way.
“More than just it being a play that tells a very contemporary story about people you don’t often see on the stage, is that it motivates people to think about the larger issues,” he said.
Specifically, he is happy to bring a Broadway-calliber production to Harlem. He hopes to touch not just folks from Harlem, but theatergoers from all around the city who are interested in contemporary issues.
Despite all the hard work and excitement put into this play, there have been a few setbacks.
Hurricane Irene came and went, and Valentin described its impact on New York City as “nothing too crazy."
But the same could not be said for the play’s scenic designer’s shop in northwest Westchester.
"SEED’s" entire set was destroyed by flooding from Irene, and the set had to be rebuilt from scratch.
“We’re now $15,000 in the hole,” said Valentín. “We have to do it, because the show must go on, but I think it’s noteworthy that’s how committed we are to the play.”
This Friday, "SEED" opens at the National Black Theater at $48 regular admissions, $20 discounted admission for students and seniors.
E. J. Aguado Jr. is a freelance reporter based in New Jersey.