MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week we're talking power. We've discussed D.C.'s political power on the national scene or lack thereof. We've explored Fairfax County's quest for global power but to kick off this part of the show we're going to look a kind of power that some may very well say is super.
MR. ANDRES C. TALERO
I mean, of course the guy doesn't have like actual super hearing or whatever, but it's probably way better than average. Maybe way, way better. You know, maybe it's so much better it even seems super by comparison. Is that so hard to imagine that could be possible?
This is a scene from "REALS," a world premiere play at Northeast D.C.'s H Street Playhouse.
You don't even want to believe.
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(unintelligible) possibility of super hearing?
In our mission, assembling an elite team of well-trained costumes vigilantes to restore order and safety to our streets.
"REALS" explores real-life superheroes, everyday folks who set out to make the world a better place with the help of costumes and nicknames. These characters call themselves Belt and Nightlife.
People need to know who we are. They need to know we're out there, fighting for them. Our nicknames are like symbols, you know, they stand for something, hope, change.
And these costumed nicknamed heroes weren't something playwright Gwydion Suilebhan dreamed up for his show. Belts and Nightlife represent an entire community that actually exists.
MR. GWYDION SUILEBHAN
There really are, I'm telling you, hundreds of people around the country who are wearing costumes and are doing this all the time. If you Google real life superheroes, your life will never be the same.
And you know what, he's right, because I Googled real life superheroes, tacking on the search terms Maryland, Virginia and D.C. and next thing I know...
Hi, nice to meet you finally.
Nice to meet you.
I'm in the middle of DuPont Circle.
I believe the rest of our people are right over there.
Meeting members of the Maryland Defenders.
Hello, hello, hello.
Hello, I'm Rebecca.
Nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you.
And this is the Bunny Man.
Bunny Man, hey, nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you.
Bunny Man, for the record, is more of what Stormbringer calls hero support, though he doesn't seem too fond of that term.
That's worse than a sidekick. Come on, you know, really. I'm not Robin.
Anyway, when Stormbringer, Culaan and Bunny Man arrive from Upper Marlboro, they turn more than a few heads with what they're wearing.
Would we call it a uniform, costume?
I think the general term I hear is either in hero or in gimmick.
The whole point of being in hero or in gimmick is kind of like what Nightlife was saying about nicknames, it helps you stand out and draw attention to your cause and your deeds. It helps you become a symbol. And Stormbringer wants to be a symbol of what she calls the bridge of understanding between three important parts of her life.
I'm Native American and Irish and also a practicing Wiccan.
So she decorates her black and blonde-streaked braids with leather and feathers and beads and she wears a Celtic leather bodice, emblazoned with pentagrams and bears.
Because the bear is the spirit animal that my character chose.
As for Culaan, he served six years in the Marine Corps before creating his persona, so his character is inspired by the military. The guy is covered head-to-toe in military-issued gear, all of it black. Black...
Not to mention heavy-duty gloves also black. And when he's on the job, so to speak...
I usually will have armor plate on my forearms, my upper shoulders, my back, my chest, my thighs, shins.
Because Culaan's super powers include rescuing and rehabilitating stray dogs, more often than not, unruly pit bulls. You see, the Maryland Defenders' mission is to promote animal rights, which perhaps isn't as pow, kaboom, bam as the acts you'd normally associate with superheroes, but here's the thing.
There is actually two separate schools of thought when it comes to a real life super hero'
On one hand, Stormbringer says, you've got people like the Maryland Defenders, a subgroup of the Skiffytown League of Heroes, a national organization dedicated to using creative play to help kids stay on the straight and narrow. And these folks are what you would call costumed activists.
They do homeless outreach. They do charity work, you know, in general, for the community.
On the other hand, you've got patrollers.
They break up bar fights. They chase down purse snatchers. They chase drug dealers out of parks. Very dangerous work and I have a lot of respect for the people that do that.
People like Phoenix Jones, the black-and-yellow-costumed crusader in Seattle. Phoenix claims of the 236 arrests real-life superheroes have brought about, he's responsible for 218 of them. Phoenix has become notorious for the videos his ever-present cameraman shoots like this one showing Phoenix breaking up a fight.
Phoenix look down, look down, huge fight.
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Go, go, go, go.
But not long after this incident, here's what they were showing on the TV news.
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Seattle's Phoenix Jones was arrested early Sunday morning after police say he assaulted several people with pepper spray. Other reports say the 23-year-old was trying to stop a fight and used the spray after he was attacked.
So it may come as no surprise that critics often call patrollers vigilantes. Stormbringer, however, jumps to their defense.
Most of these guys that are going out and doing the patrolling, these guys have like mixed martial-arts training, self-defense training. Many of them carry Tasers or stun guns, where that's legal, pepper spray where that's legal.
Though no real-life super hero ever carries a gun.
It is very much an unwritten rule that we just don't do that.
But Culaan worries about people who may not know the unwritten rules of the R-L-S-H movement.
The one movie, "Kick Ass."
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Comic books had it wrong. Any ordinary person can be a superhero.
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There's a dude dressed like a superhero defending a bunch of guys.
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When that came out, the movement increased and then quickly decreased as the younger people that see what they see in the movies and they're like, I can do that. Until they get into real life and they get beat up, not knowing that what they saw on the screen was not exactly accurate.
Because becoming a real life super hero, Stormbringer says, isn't about butt-kicking for butt-kicking's sake. Heck, it doesn't even have to be about butt-kicking at all.
You can help an old woman carry her groceries. You can catch somebody's stray dog that got loose from them. You can pull a kitten out of a tree. All of these things make you a hero to someone. As long as you affect one person, then you've already made an effective good in the world.
And this idea of what truly makes someone a hero is one of the themes Gwydion Suilebhan tackles in REALS.
This play is really asking a lot of very complicated psychological questions underneath the butt-kicking in spandex. I am really interested in the impulses we have to change everything in our worlds. Do we need to put on a mask, symbolic or real, to become somebody different?
For all of their creative nicknames and costumes, the Maryland Defenders I met would say no. And it's all summed up in their slogan because hey, every great superhero's got to have a slogan, right? Spiderman has with great power, there must also come great responsibility. Wonder Woman has govern yourselves with love, kindness, and service to others. Well, the Defenders have their own, too, be your own hero.
"REALS" runs at the H Street Playhouse through September 16th. To learn more about the Maryland Defenders, the Skiffytown League of Heroes and to watch Phoenix Jones crusading around the Emerald City, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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