A UNIVERSE of Existence

Part of our "Community Response" series

By Trinity Smith

First and foremost, the Juneteenth Celebration by UNIVERSES was an experience. I walked in entirely unsure what to expect, and that feeling remained for the duration of the show. The concert was unique in the way that it required you as an audience member to be present and to have faith in the artists in front of you to guide you through their process. I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like it and that I likely won’t again.  

There are a few moments that I can recall quite clearly. A quiet chill in the air at the mention of church. The earnest, boisterous laughter from the woman sitting next to me. People shifting uncomfortably in their seats at the mention of racism as though surprised that such a topic would be discussed at a performance held on Juneteenth. Despite how starkly each stands out in my memory, those moments are not what has remained at the forefront of my mind as I’ve reflected on my experience.  

UNIVERSES performing in Actors Theatre’s 2024 Juneteenth Celebration 

Photo Credit: Ben Gierhart and Actors Theatre of Louisville 

It is not only the concert itself and the reactions it provoked that I remember, but the questions that it asked of me. UNIVERSES asked questions that have long lingered within me since I’ve gained an awareness of what it means to exist as myself: to be Black, to be a woman, to be queer, to be a person, to be an artist, to be all of those things at the same time. And the ensemble did so in a manner not unlike the way such questions come to exist in my mind organically. Stories were told in fragments that were free-flowing and isolated but that still existed as part of a bigger unknowable whole. There was a persistent sense of comedy and lightness that was expressed directly alongside heavy sorrow and pain. There was an exploration of youth, sexuality, structural inequality, and artistry that was captured in all of its glory and all of its tragedy. There was emphasis on the senses and on various aspects of physicality: the power of a walk, swaying of the hips, the physical pain one experiences when their self-expression is inhibited or found lacking.  

And isn’t that the nature of things? To find both power and inadequacy in existing in your own space and body, especially when coming of age in a world that boasts a legacy of freedom and liberty that is simultaneously a legacy of violent oppression and rejection. I felt both seen and exposed. UNIVERES offered a glimpse into the complexity of the looking-glass self that exists when the simple act of being alive becomes something political. It is as beautiful as it is confusing, as violent internally as it is externally—though we tend to focus on the latter. And importantly, it is shared.  

Asia Mark 

Photo Credit: Ben Gierhart and Actors Theatre of Louisville 

UNIVERSES performing for the audience

Photo Credit: Ben Gierhart and Actors Theatre of Louisville 

That is another thing that UNIVERSES articulated perfectly: how quickly the quest for “my” freedom becomes the quest for “our” freedom. How each of our stories and our artistries becomes intertwined—even while under attack—and what this implies for our collective liberation. How dependent we all are on each other for safety and belonging. The simple fact that we are individuals whose thoughts and actions make an impact in the communities we live in means that we can be complicit in the very systems we are working to overthrow. 

UNIVERSES left me with more questions than answers. The performance also implored me to let such introspection guide me to something bigger than myself. To let my existence, however confusing, political, or complex it might be, be enough. I hope through this short piece, you feel implored to do the same. 

Trinity Smith is a rising senior earning her B.A. in Theatre at Bellarmine University.

She is an actress and writer currently based in Louisville, Kentucky.