The Vortex’s Ballot Eats the Bullet

This timely production's extraordinary performers speak truth, as black women in America, that makes us see them

The cast of Ballot Eats the Bullet: (l-r) Sade M. Jones, Kera Blay, Valoneecia Tolbert, Breaion S. King, M’Kenzie Flakes, and Chelsea Manasseri (Photo by Bonnie Cullum)

I'm a believer in black-girl magic. Ballot Eats the Bullet made me one. This intense meditation on the lives of black women in America presents the experiences of six extraordinary performers – Sade M. Jones, Breaion S. King, Chelsea Manasseri, Kera Blay, M'Kenzie Flakes, and Valoneecia Tolbert, who fearlessly speak, sing, and dance truth to power. And the beautiful thing about truth is that hearing it changes you.

Some of the truths expressed in this work are uncomfortable but necessary. Sexual violence and the ownership of black women's bodies are addressed, and the overwhelming set of obstacles that complicate everyday life exponentially for women of color is heartbreakingly laid out in a haunting poem titled "Suicide Note." Some moments may make you, as an audience member, feel confronted by (and perhaps even ashamed of) your own cultural privilege. But, as the cast will tell you, let love in and it will grow. This is not work designed to point fingers and cast blame, but rather a declaration of identity, beauty, and worth from a group of people who have been brutalized and othered in ways that one cannot fully grasp unless one has experienced it firsthand.

But not all truth is harsh. The show also leaves plenty of room to laugh and celebrate. In it are some hilarious revelations concerning the current presidential candidates. There's a schoolyard conversation about black girl superheroes that will leave you grinning ear-to-ear and an ode to Mother Moon so full of love and admiration that you won't be able to help conjuring thoughts of your own favorite family matriarch.

Ballot Eats the Bullet is intended to engage you emotionally and make you think, which isn't surprising since it's been put together and staged by Zell Miller III. For over 20 years, this formidable poet and artist has consistently brought unforgettable, challenging, powerful, and thought-provoking performances to Austin stages. But this theatrical experience will also leave you a more compassionate and empathetic human being. It is precisely this kind of art that starts discussions, moves hearts and minds, and shifts the cultural paradigm.

I don't know what it's like to live in this country as a woman of color. You may not, either. And that is exactly why it is so important to see Ballot Eats the Bullet. Even liberal monoliths like the civil rights movement and the feminist movement have a history of not taking into account the mine-filled intersection of racial identity and gender that black women must navigate every day. Their voices have been excluded from the American story for far too long. It is time to listen.

The show begins as it ends, with a group of black women breathing together and supporting one another as they give the audience a simple, quiet directive:

"See me."

And you will.

Ballot Eats The Bullet

The Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd., 512/478-5282
Through Nov. 5
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.

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Vortex Repertory Company, Zell Miller III, Sade M. Jones, Breaion S. King, Chelsea Manasseri, Kera Blay, M'Kenzie Flakes, Valoneecia Tolbert

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