Backstage at the Lyric Opera House this Saturday, the consensus among the cast of The Wire was that when Sonja Sohn and Michael K. Williams call, you answer. Thanks to Sohn and Williams, who played Detective Kima Greggs and stick-up man Omar Little respectively, over a dozen of their former castmates—including Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Dierdre Lovejoy and many others—came together in Baltimore for Wired Up, an event showcasing the voices of the Sandtown-Winchester community. The neighborhood was home to Freddie Gray, the unarmed black man who died from injuries sustained in police custody this April, and the epicenter of this spring's protests and unrest in the wake of his arrest and death.
The event, put on by Sohn's organization ReWired for Change and presented in the midst of Artscape, an annual public art festival in Baltimore, was part play, part concert, part rally, and part reunion. The actors read monologues culled from workshops conducted over a two-day period in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood last April, in the wake of the protests and violence. The voices represented ranged from the formerly incarcerated to police officers, teenagers to senior citizens.
Andre Royo, who played the addict and informant Bubbles on The Wire, said it was a "no brainer" to participate.
"Without Baltimore, we wouldn't be here," he told VICE. "I feel it's important for us to come back and say bravo to the city of Baltimore, to say you're not alone and you're being heard."
The day had an intimate, improvisational energy, both onstage and off. Cast and community members laughed, snapped selfies, burst into spontaneous song and dance during rehearsal. At one point a young activist laughingly told Whitlock, who played corrupt politician Clay Davis, that he kept expecting him to say "Sheeeeit," his character's catchphrase.
The community's words, spoken by the actors onstage, seemed to share a frustration at how their voices often went unheard by the mainstream media, but also a sense of empowerment and a belief that, though the price has been unthinkably high, Baltimore has arrived at a moment when its most marginalized voices can stand up and be heard.
Gray's stepfather, Richard Shipley, a reminder of that tragic cost, watched alongside the cast and community members backstage. He was quiet for much of the time, listening at one point with his head bowed, but addressed the crowd briefly at the afternoon's close, saying he was "so very, very proud" of what he sees starting to happen in Baltimore.
"I see a lot of progress being made in a short period of time," he said. "And it's just a shame that it had to take a tragedy for us to get off our butts."
Sohn told VICE that having him there was "an honor and a privilege."
"Honestly the event wouldn't have been complete without somebody from Freddie Gray's family," she said. "Because unfortunately the passing of Mr. Gray was the catalyst [...] for an entire marginalized portion of the city to activate."
Shadow, a peer advocate and gang liaison for the Penn North Recovery Center, appeared on stage to read his monologue with Michael K. Williams. For Shadow, the receptiveness of the audience and the feeling of his neighborhood being heard by its city was the true highlight of the day.
"The coolest part of the entire experience," he told VICE, "was watching people's reactions to what was being said."
"I'll be generous and say the crowd was 75% not black," he said. "And to hear them cheering for what was being said it's like, 'Oh, holy shit. Maybe we're not alone.'"
Sohn sees Saturday as only the beginning. Next, she wants to bring the piece straight to the people, erecting a stage production in the middle of Penn North.
"This becomes the story The Wire couldn't tell because of the parameters of TV," she told VICE.
"This becomes sort of like the next chapter in a sense. The real life Wire, you could say. But it then becomes the people who get to finish off that narrative."
- Meg Charlton