Part II: Giving Voice to Terrance Henderson – Guest blog by Larry Hembree, Managing Director of Trustus Theatre

black man complex

(For Part I of this series please click here.

As the Managing Director of Trustus Theatre, I am not intricately involved in the artistic decisions that define the theatre.  But as a theatre artist, I am always intrigued by the artistic process.  As I look forward to the opening of Terrance Henderson’s premiere of “The Black Man…Complex” as part of a new initiative called “Premieres” I am on a journey to understand the process, the work and the motivation. This is my second post.


August 5, 2014: I attend a rehearsal in the Trustus rehearsal space. It’s been about a week since the group of six male performers has been together. Terrance Henderson was teaching master classes in Florida the past week.

I am not ready, at all, for what transpires.

Each week, the rehearsal space, as we call it, goes through many transformations depending on what is taking place in it:  classes, rehearsals and sometimes performances, but as soon as I entered the rehearsal, already in progress,  I was immediately overwhelmed ... this room had quickly transformed in a very sacred place … like church. “Soul food” in progress.

My descriptors may lack authenticity but the space was, to me, filled with a brotherhood of performers who had great respect for each other as artists and humans.

I was there for a couple of hours and couldn’t even speak (very, very rare for me) as I was profoundly moved by the work of Terrance Henderson. I have seen his choreography for years but mainly in the context of collaborating with other theatre directors on their projects, not his own single creation … his solo “voice.”  This experience was uniquely different.  The work was coming from a place of sincere, meaningful and heroic expression so well executed that it both thrilled and intimidated at the same time. It’s hard to explain.  It has to be experienced to understand.

As the rehearsal goes on, vocal coach Walter Graham comes in to assist in the group vocals for a song called “Little Ghetto Boy.”  This piece was first performed by Donny Hathaway and more recently by John Legend.  This song is about growing up in a place where things seem to be stacked up against you but how everything has got to be better as life moves forward. It is hopeful.

As the vocals get deconstructed and then put back together very intimately in layers that eventually make sense, there is a kind of rhythm and syncopation among the collective group that seems instinctual … organic … something that can’t be rehearsed but something that simply is. It’s powerful, intriguing and also confusing to me on some level.

When the exploration is over and the rehearsal is about to turn into a run through of the entire work, Terrance breathes and then addresses the group.  He explains that they have to connect mind and body for the experience to work.  That the piece is about many things, about “gathering our ancestors” and figuring out how we “wear our complexion.”  He reflects in silence for a moment and simply says, “Complicated ... Complexity.”   Nobody speaks, and then the run through begins. Sacred indeed.

Tickets are on sale for this work as well as “Constance” at and on facebook at TrustusTheatre.