Play Ball - A Dance on Historic Downs Field

Location:  Austin, TX
United States
Project Description: 

Play Ball on Historic Downs Field was performed May 9th-11th, 2014 to an audience of over 1,500 people. Presented through a partnership between Forklift Danceworks and Austin's African American Cultural Heritage DistrictPlay Ball premiered as part of District Days at Downs Field, a citywide celebration of historic Downs Field. Located in East Austin, Downs Field was once home to the Negro Baseball League's Austin Black Senators, as well as the Austin Black Pioneers and the Austin Greyhounds. The field has seen the likes of many baseball greats including Satchel Paige, Willie Wells, and Buck O'Neil.

Play Ball celebrated baseball and the vital role that Downs Field has played in the rich baseball history of Austin and the nation. Featuring the Huston-Tillotson Rams baseball team performing choreography derived from the movement of baseball, Play Ball was performed to an original musical score composed by Graham Reynolds with a cast of notable Austin musicians, including Jazz vocalist Pam Hart and trumpet player Ephraim Owens. 

“[Play Ball] gave an opportunity to relive the game without the game actually being played,” reflects community leader Kenneth Thompson. “It gave you an opportunity to use your imagination and then to reconnect… You couldn’t help but think about some of the yesterday moments when you were actually at the park and some of the events that took place there.”

Artistic Director Allison Orr and Associate Choreographer Krissie Marty worked closely with the Huston-Tillotson Rams baseball team for a period of three months to create Play Ball—getting to know the guys and the game by regularly attending practices, conducting interviews, and studying the history of Negro League baseball both within Austin and nationwide. They reached out to former Negro League baseball players in Central Texas, as well as a number of other community members with ties to the field. 

Audience members at Play Ball have described the performance as exhilarating, inspiring, graceful, magical, engaging, sweet, grounded, clever, fun, historical, moving, uplifting, beautiful, thrilling, whimsical, emotional, exciting, outstanding, heartfelt, memorable…

One audience member writes, “I brought a ‘skeptical-of-this-whole-idea’ family member along to see the show, and I saw that she was in tears about halfway though the production. When I asked her why she was crying, she said she was reliving the feeling that she used to feel many years ago when her Dad would take her to watch baseball practice at a field near where she grew up… [Play Ball] beautifully portrayed the drive and passion of the players, the beauty of their athleticism, the humor that should be a part of any sport (so delightful!), and the charming generosity of the young men and their coaches who agreed to participate in something so completely out of their normal routine.”

A truly unique collaboration at the intersection of arts and sports, Play Ball brought together people of all different ages and backgrounds around the common goal to educate Austinites about the legacy of Downs Field. The event has garnered citywide support for the field, and plans are moving forward with Friends of Downs Field to upgrade the field.

“We are more excited for next season than ever,” says Huston-Tillotson Rams’ Pitcher Charleston Samuel.