Anyika McMillan-Herod will celebrate her 10th year cancer free by directing The Monarch, a play she wrote during her battle against Stage 3 breast cancer.
“May 24 marked my 10th 'Monarch Day' — this is the name my husband gave to the anniversary of my remission," she says.
The Monarch “is a result of the journaling and writing I did to help me through the process of healing," she says. "It was my therapy. The play includes aspects of my personal journey and those of other women I met and imagined along the way.”
Using the hopeful metaphor of a butterfly’s metamorphosis, The Monarch explores the struggles of four women battling cancer. Each actor represents one stage in the butterfly’s life cycle — egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and monarch.
“There are dark places in the play, but it is layered with humor and its biggest message is hope and healing," McMillan-Herod says.
Homegrown playwright McMillan-Herod is a Booker T. Washington High School arts magnet graduate. She co-founded Soul Rep Theatre Company 20 years ago with two friends, Guinea Bennett-Price and Tonya Holloway. McMillan-Herod says the three friends returned to Dallas after graduate school and discovered there weren't a lot of opportunities for actors of color or women in Dallas.
“There are dark places in the play, but it is layered with humor, and its biggest message is hope and healing." – Anyika McMillan-Herod
"So we decided to create opportunities for ourselves," she says. "We wanted to ensure there was an African-American voice in Dallas’ theater community.”
Their goal remains “to provide quality, transformative black theater that enlightens the imagination, the spirit and the soul," she says. "Our vision is to shift the paradigm of how the Black experience is valued by the world.”
The three continue to serve as co-directors for Soul Rep, the resident theater company at the South Dallas Cultural Center.
McMillan-Herod and Soul Rep often set their stories in Dallas and occasionally draw on episodes from the city’s history. McMillan-Herod's one-act play The Ballad of Jane Elkins tells the horrific story of a slave who became the first woman executed in Dallas County in the mid-1850s. In May, The Elevator Project performed The Freedmans, a play written by Soul Rep members more than 20 years ago to commemorate the opening of Dallas’ Freedman’s Cemetery. As part of its 2017 New Plays Festival, Soul Rep presented a series of 10 short plays about people and places in South Dallas.
Soul Rep Theatre will present The Monarch in collaboration with Echo Theatre at the Bath House Cultural Center. While the play explores the common threads women face when battling breast cancer, it also allows McMillan-Herod to reveal her personal lesson.
“Cancer and pain have been one of my greatest teachers," she says. "I have learned from both that life is truly a spiritual journey.”
The Monarch runs through June 30.