Play Written by Jamaican American Featured at The Popular Summer Shorts Play Series at Miami’s Arsht Center

Nerissa Street, a Jamaican-American storyteller who grew up in Miami, is one of the playwrights featured in the Summer Shorts Play series titled “Flipping The Script”, at Miami’s Arsht Center. Her play, “Leaving Jamaica,” focuses on three women in a Kingstonian household. Just before Tulip leaves Jamaica, she receives a significant gift. Street describes the play as “a tiny little play about a big decision,” highlighting the emotional complexity of the Caribbean immigration story.

“The play is my love letter to the island that is such a big part of who I am, but is not where I was born,” Street quips. “When I was younger, my cousins would make fun of my patwa when I would visit from foreign during the summer. I begged them to teach me. At home in the US, my mom had a book of Louise Bennett’s ‘Jamaica Labrish’ and I would read all the poems out loud. Our people can tell a story with just a look and a gesture, and our culture is unmatched. I never understood why anyone would want to leave.”

While Street worked on another storytelling project that archived joyful (and mostly untold) histories in redlined neighborhoods, she noticed a similarity between Overtown, Sistrunk and Kingston. “Families would send their children out of the area for education, and many times, they would not return home. Because they weren’t coming back, ‘home’ was being sold right out from under the aging families, and the neighborhoods they left were losing heritage and culture.”

“I was grateful to be connected to these wonderful and passionate local historians who knew the treasure that their South Florida neighborhood was,” Street says. “It made me realize what I had taken for granted in my own history.” Street then interviewed Jamaicans that were family, friends, colleagues and mentors, and enlisted the help of Vicky Silvera, head of FIU’s Digital Library of the Caribbean for a historical perspective. Street then reached out to Island SPACE Museum to host a “workshop” reading of the play. This workshop puts a draft of the play in front of the intended audience for their feedback.

“Listen,” Street quips. “I asked our people to give me honest feedback about the story – whether it rang true, or if anything was missing?” She laughs. “Do you what kinds of things I could have heard?” But the positive response was universal. Once the workshop process was completed, Street handed the script to the producers at City Theatre Miami.

“I’m so excited this very pivotal moment for a lot of Jamaican families is being presented by such a highly acclaimed theater company. City Theatre Miami is such a caring producer, recruiting the best seasoned and emerging professionals in South Florida to provide a full night of entertainment. You may come for one show, but you’ll definitely leave with your heart full with 7 other poignant and funny stories too!”

Street’s play is part of City Theatre’s HOMEGROWN playwright development program, which selected four playwrights this year. The HOMEGROWN performances, including “Leaving Jamaica,” will be global premieres. The program aims to amplify local talent and elevate it alongside national playwrights.

The series by City Theatre and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County features eight short plays by emerging playwrights from Miami and across the country. The play series runs from Thursday, June 6, 2024, with a preview at 7:30 p.m., through Sunday, June 23, 2024.

Summer Shorts: Flipping The Script is supported by the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, the Miami-Dade County Mayor, and the Board of County Commissioners. Additional support is provided by the State of Florida’s Division of Arts and Culture, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Miami Downtown Development Authority, and Citizens Interested in the Arts.