Illusion Theater presented the post-show conversation What is the African Diaspora? A Conversation about Afro-Atlantic Culture with playwright Zainabu Jallo and Africana Scholar Maboula Soumahoro, moderated by director and festival curator Carlyle Brown, livestreaming on the global, commons-based, peer-produced HowlRound TV network on Sunday 15 October 2023 at 1:45 p.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC -7) / 3:45 p.m. CDT (Minneapolis, UTC -5) / 4:45 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC -4).
Please be aware this conversation begins following a performance of We Take Care of Our Own.
This conversation is part of the Afro-Atlantic Playwright Festival co-curated by Carlyle Brown and Chuck Mik and a partnership with the Camargo Foundation, the Playwrights’ Center, and Illusion Theater.
Zainabu Jallo (playwright) is a scholar, playwright, and portrait photographer. Her academic and creative works have been conveyed through fellowships at the Sundance Theater Institute, the Institute for World Literature, Harvard University, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, Residenz Theater Munich, Chateau Lavigny, and House of Writers in Switzerland. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts England, and UNESCO Coalition of Artists for the General History of Africa. She is the author of award-winning plays Onions Make Us Cry, Holy Night, and My Sultan Is a Rockstar. Jallo is post-doctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Basel, Switzerland. She is one of the Principal Investigators of the "Sacral Architecture Africa” Project. Her scholarly interests include the Afro-Atlantic, iconic criticism, the history of criminal anthropology and material culture.
Her play We Take Care of Our Own is a tale of migration and aging in the diaspora. Three elderly gentlemen in the twilight of their lives find themselves in a lavish nursing home somewhere in Europe poring over their existential anxieties. Away from family and homeland. they are all wondering, "how the hell did we get here?"
Maboula Soumahoro is an associate professor at the University of Tours and president of the Black History Month Association, dedicated to celebrating Black history and cultures. A specialist in the field of Africana Studies, she has conducted research and taught in several universities and prisons in the United States and France and was most recently the inaugural Villa Albertine Resident in Atlanta (2021-2022).
From 2013 to 2017, Dr. Soumahoro served as a member of the National Committee for the Memory and History of Slavery. She is the author of Le Triangle et l’Hexagone, réflexions sur une identité noire (La Découverte, 2021), translated in English by Dr. Kaiama L. Glover as Black Is the Journey, Africana the Name (Polity, 2021) and prefaced by Saidiya Hartman. This book was distinguished by the FetKann/Maryse Condé literary prize in 2020. In 2022-2023, Maboula Soumahoro will be international visiting professor at the African American and Africana Studies Department of Columbia University as well as visiting faculty at Bennington College. In 2023-2024 she is a fellow at the Columbia University Institute for Ideas and Imagination.
She translated from English À perte de mère–Sur les routes atlantiques de l’esclavage (original title: Lose Your Mother. A Journey Along The Atlantic Slave Route, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007) released in September 2023 (Brook). Research interests (key words): United States Studies, African American Studies, Africana Studies (Atlantic), Black European Studies, Black Nationalism and Religion.
Carlyle Brown (co-curator, director) is a sailor, an astute cultural observer, and a playwright. He spent years sailing in the Afro-Atlantic basin. While a sailor he reflected how the people of the African diaspora carried their culture with them as they created new lives away from their ancestral homeland. The sailor-turned-playwright was fascinated by the creativity, mystery, and resilience of the people of the diaspora. Can we see the common, reoccurring elements that in the culture of the people of the African diaspora? Is there a way to name the African-ness of the music, dance, songs, stories, and theatre these people created as they migrated to other lands? Can we identify what is the “African-ness” of theatremakers? Who better to explore and name this African-ness than other playwrights of African descent?
The sailor-turned-playwright shared his thoughts with others including his colleague and acclaimed theater director Chuck Mike. He also reached out to people he knew from the Camargo Foundation, a beautiful estate in Cassis, France which for over fifty years has offered residencies to artists, thinkers, and scholars. He talked about it with the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis where he is an honored core member. He shared it with Illusion Theater, where he is the Andrew W. Mellon Playwright-in-Residence. Wherever and whomever he shared this idea, people knew “this was an idea whose time had come.”
With leadership from Camargo and support from National Endowment for the Arts, Jerome Foundation, Ford Foundation, and France American Cultural Exchange, Chuck Mike and Carlyle Brown co-curated two residencies in 2018 and 2022 at the Camargo. Eight playwrights of African heritage came to the retreat to discuss, write, and create without the veil of a white/Western filter, without having to explain themselves or having to represent an entire group of people. Instead, they were invited to explore the ways the African diaspora was an influence and factor in their work, in what they wrote about, and how it had shaped them. For more information on the Cultural Diaspora Project, click here.
Carlyle returned from France to the Playwrights Center (PWC): “Could the Center bring the plays that grew out of the residency in France to Minnesota for further development?” So the idea gained another partner. PWC with Camargo hosted the first Afro-Atlantic Playwright Festival in 2019 where three plays from Cassis were staged. Carlyle then spoke to his colleagues at Illusion, who had just supported the development and premiere of his A Play about Barb and Carl. As part of his Mellon Fellowship, he asked, “Could Illusion bring one of the plays written out of the Afro-Atlantic Cultural Diaspora Project to full production?” And Illusion agreed.
Illusion Theater's mission is to create theater that illuminates the illusions, myths and realities of our times and to catalyze personal and social change. Illusion presents its Main Stage Season and Fresh Ink Series in their new home at the Center for Performing Arts. Miss Richfield arrives with her Holiday Prog'rum in December. Illusion tours in the spring, performing for schools, universities, art series, corporations, faith organizations, and communities. In its ongoing mission to develop new work that reflects and illuminates our times, Illusion turned to creating specific work that addresses issues important to children and families. Illusion's Educational Program is renowned throughout the state and country for its effective combination of theater and carefully crafted messaging.