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Singin' a Black Girl's Song- Ntozake Shange and for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf

Leticia Ridley: Welcome to Daughters of Lorraine, a podcast from your friendly neighborhood Black feminists, exploring the legacies, presents, and futures of Black theatre. We are your hosts, Leticia Ridley—

Jordan Ealey: And Jordan Ealey.

Leticia: On this podcast, we'll discuss Black theatre history; conduct interviews with local and national Black theatre artists, scholars, and practitioners; and discuss plays by Black playwrights that have our minds buzzing.

On September 15th 1976, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange had its Broadway debut at the Booth Theatre. Comprised of twenty poems and performed in bars across San Francisco in the summer of 1974, Shange took the work to New York where it captured the attention of New York producers and directors and the hearts of Black women everywhere. The original Broadway production received Tony nominations including Best Play. for colored girls, as Shange's most acclaimed creative work, has held onto its cultural relevance for Black feminist theatre and performance.

Jordan: This relevance was shown when the play was revived Off-Broadway at the Public Theater in 2019. Directed by Leah C. Gardiner and choreographed by Camille A. Brown and an all-star cast of actors, for colored girls was critically acclaimed and successful. The renewed interest in this work most likely led to the Broadway revival, which recently concluded its current run at the Booth Theatre where it debuted forty-six years prior. With Camille A. Brown taking over as both director and choreographer, the production has received critical acclaim. Leticia and I had a chance to see the recent Broadway production, and our experience led to the subject of today's episode. Here we discuss Black femme joy and pain, the diversity of Black feminine experience, and why for colored girls still feels so fresh nearly fifty years later.

Leticia: Welcome back y'all to Daughters of Lorraine. I know I've been saying that recently we're back with our Season Three.

Jordan: I been gone for a minute now we back with the jump off.

Leticia: I think you did that last time.

Jordan: A lot has changed since you all last heard from us. We are now a bicoastal dynamic duo. Isn't that right, Leticia?

Leticia: Yes. I'm over here in Northern California, also known as the Bay Area, out here teaching, doing my thing. But I'm happy to be back on these mics with you, Jordan, to start our Season Three of Daughters of Lorraine.

Jordan: Absolutely. Absolutely. We got to see some really interesting stuff lately and we're so excited for this next season. We have a lot in store for you all today, but that can wait because we have a very important production to talk about today, which is for colored girls by Ntozake Shange. So, Leticia, when did you first encounter this play, just generally?

Leticia: I can't quite remember it. I can't quite place where I first encountered this work and part of me is like, “I hope it wasn't the Tyler Perry movie, because that was terrible,” but-

Jordan: And we'll get to that.

Leticia: But I will say that for colored girls has been a staple in my life, and I feel like Season Three for us is kind of a bit too late to be talking about the Black feminist theatre classic. And ashé to our ancestor, Ntozake Shange, as she has passed on, but we honor her in her life and her legacy.

And I just think back to our previous episode [AM1] Lwith Aleshea Harris and Whitney White, when we had that moment talking about for colored girls. And I just think about for colored girls itself as sort of a staple within theatre and specifically for Black women theatre artists as being this sort of main, critical moment that stands the test of time. How about you? When was the first time you encountered for colored girls?

Jordan: So I'm from Atlanta for anyone who does not know this. And I did theatre around Atlanta when I was a kid. And I remember reading or even going to see shows where I would look at the playbills and the programs, and I felt like every single time I encountered a Black woman actress, she had been in for colored girls. And so I'm like ten years old, like, “Oh, what is this really long show that every Black girl or woman that I'm encountering has been in?” And that was my first encounter with the title of the play.

But I don't think I read it in earnest until I was an undergrad in college. I was seeking out Black women playwrights and I was wanting more diversity than I was being offered in my theatre classes. And I just remembered this play and I read it, and now I have a line from it tattooed on my ribs to state the importance of this text to me is... It's difficult to place because I feel like it's really shaped a lot of my experience of Black theatre. So yeah, it's been in my life for a while. And us seeing the Broadway play is actually the first time I saw this staged.

Leticia: Same. It was also the first time I've seen it was staged. But something about the text always feels to me is like, it's always been a part of me even if I didn't encounter it. It has this sort of familiarity every time I revisit it. And the first time, if I could even remember back to that time when I experienced it... It's monumental for a few reasons, right?

It's the second Black woman to have a play on Broadway after Lorraine Hansberry. It won the Obie Award. And Ntozake also gives us this new language for this form called the choreopoem. Jordan, what's the choreopoem?

Jordan: Yeah, a choreopoem is invented by Ntozake Shange as you said. And it is the blend of dance, of music, of lyricism, poetry. And this blend of all of that makes this whole new form of innovation. And honestly, the choreopoem really inspires me because, as you all listeners might know, I study musical theatre. And the thing about musical theatre, or specifically Black musical theatre, is that a lot of it is based upon legitimacy. So what is a real musical? What kind of productions encompass this thing called musical theatre? And lately I've been kind of considering about the form of the choreopoem as a type of music theatre.

And I think Ntozake Shange would roll over in her grave at me saying that because she lambasted musical theatre because it often was predicated upon stereotypes of Blackness, which, she's not wrong. Minstrelsy. However, I am curious about people like me who are scholars of music, who are scholars of theatre, who are scholars of music theatre: how we can consider something like for colored girls in our work? So...

Leticia: One of the things that I really gravitate to with the choreopoem is this connection with body and text. And I think the choreopoem is inherently, within itself, doesn't see these things as separate, but actually co-constitutive to one another. And I think about when we were doing research for this episode, I came across a New York Times article where the author was interviewing Paula Moss, who was the original choreographer of the 1976 production of for colored girls at the Public.

And she recalls that Ntozake Shange had invited her to a poetry reading. And she says, when Ntozake stood up and started to read a few of her poems, she started to dance as she read them. And she said, it really struck her because usually, poets get up there, one mic, one voice. They're delivering their poetry and that's it. But as she started to dance, Paula Moss says that people were shocked, right? And I think that is interesting that Ntozake herself felt her poetry in her body. And I think we get that so deeply in for colored girls, right? That's why the choreopoem is such an innovative form, because it sees the blending of all these different forms of storytelling into one and not seeing them separate entities, but things that dance together or work together, right?

They're all a well-oiled machine. And I think what for colored girls does so well, and even the Broadway production that we'll talk a bit about later, is that all of the forms connect with one another, without one shining above another, which I really appreciate. And I think is actually something really difficult to accomplish.

Jordan: Yeah. And I think it's interesting because, as we talked about in an earlier episode on form, right, we think about this idea of Black theatre is often about like, “Oh, it's theatre about Black people.” Right? But we don't think about how is Black theatre kind of formalistically and fundamentally different from other types of theatre, right? I think the choreopoem, which we did discuss in that episode, really exemplifies exactly that question that I think is really prescient for both of our interests is that it's rethinking how work is curated, right?

So, like you said, it's blending all of these different elements that would be separately put together in different ways, right? So there are people who study poetry versus people who study theatre versus people that study dance, and something like the choreopoem says that all of these things are informing each other. It's circuitous. And I think that that kind of relationship to hierarchy is exactly why the choreopoem and for colored girls retains its relevance for something like Black feminism, right? Something we have yet to really get into in this episode, which we will talk about in a later episode this season is around this idea of what Black feminism is and how it is portrayed within Black theatre. And I think something like the choreopoem and its interest in de-hierarchizing... I just made up that word, I believe, but that—

Leticia: Whatever.

Jordan: —that's what it is going to be. It's what's going to be. I'm an academic. That's what we do. Taking the idea that things have to be elevated over another, right?

Music is more important than this, or... right? Oftentimes in musical theatre, the music is the most important part and all the other parts kind of get siloed, but in something like the choreopoem, it's all informing each other in particularly resonant ways. And I deeply think that that is something we should continue to probe as scholars and practitioners of Black theatre.

Leticia: Yeah, definitely. Also, one of the things that annoys me so much about when we're often talking about Black theatre, and I think perhaps we've said it on this podcast before, and I know I said this to you before, is this insistence on using European or white theatre as a reference point to understand Black theatre. I also think the language of the choreopoem actually refutes that very thing, right? It's very steeped in sort of a Black radical feminist tradition.

And I also appreciate for the work that it does there, right? So when we're approaching Ntozake Shange's work, we're approaching it through the choreopoem, right? There are no other reference points, and that the choreopoem then can be taken up to talk about other Black theatre plays and productions.

Let's get into the show. Let's talk about the script a bit before we actually get into the Broadway production. What do you get just from the words, the script, the text of for colored girls?

Jordan: I think that the particular thing that Ntozake Shange does within the actual writing of the script is in the way that it is like the typography, right? Like how the text performs on the page. So, for those who have not read for colored girls, one, you should do that. And two, if you haven't actually seen the words on the page, how they exist, particularly in the edition I have, is that all of the words are lowercased.

So, take the word “your,” for example. So Y-O-U-R, in her script, it's Y-R, right? And Ntozake Shange has expressed in this essay she wrote called “Unrecovered Losses/Black Theatre Traditions,” she thinks about specifically how she can screw with the English language, right? She's like, “The English language is oppressive, especially to Black people. It's anti-Black. And I want to find a way to sort of reclaim that space within the language to make up my own words and provide a new way of engaging that doesn't follow these kind of conventions that are already oppressing and repressing Blackness within them.” So for colored girls as a text reflects that commitment, I think. I don't know. What about you, Leticia?

Leticia: Yeah. I think speaking on the topography of the script, Dominique Morisseau said in an article... and this is a direct quote, “for colored girls is written with no punctuation and no capitalization and with all these slash marks, and that really inspired a different kind of pentameter than Shakespeare, a different kind of rhythm and heartbeat to the work. And that revolutionized the way I saw myself as a participant in theatre in general, as an actor and as a writer. So when I wrote my first play in college, it was a choreopoem.” And I think that quote really sort of embodies what you're saying, but also this idea of a different kind of pentameter than Shakespeare, right? A different reference point, a different way of being, a different possibility for what Black theatre can be, that for someone like Dominique, Lynn Nottage was very informative. I think when Ntozake had just passed, the New York Times did this article about her legacy, and they reached out to a group of Black playwrights, specifically Black women.

So you had anyone from Lynn Nottage to Suzan-Lori to Dominique Morisseau to Jackie Sibblies Drury to Aleshea Harris, all sort of commenting on the importance of Ntozake Shange and her work. And I think that we see that legacy specifically within the topography of the script. The one that immediately comes to mind is just how Suzan-Lori Parks also messes with the language of English within her work and of form. And I think that is definitely the legacy that Ntozake Shange has left for us. On another note, I think the naming of the show is really important to how we understand it, right? I was reading recent reviews of the production that's currently on Broadway... And for those of you who may not have known, there's this big controversy, because actually for colored girls should still be open until August, but because tickets weren't selling, they decided to close the show early.

Leticia: So that's why it will no longer be up when you listen to this episode. But one of the producers was commenting about like, “We got these great reviews. People love the show. This such a monumental piece. It was really successful at the Public, right? Why aren't people buying tickets to it?” And I think we can talk about the incompatibility of Black theatre with Broadway, perhaps in this episode or at another time. But one of the things that really stuck out to me was that the producer said, “Well, it's because suicide is in the title.” So people think that the actual show is just going to be a downer, right? Like it's just going to be so sad. And there are definitely sad moments in it, but it is so much more than that. So I just thought that was an interesting sort of way for a contemporary producer to sort of talk about the approach and it's resonance for audiences who may be unfamiliar with the text.

Jordan: So you mentioned the Tyler Perry movie at the top of the episode. And I think that, while I don't want to spend too much time on that because that could be a whole episode in and of itself, that exact thing that you just said exemplifies the ways that that Tyler Perry movie failed, because it emphasizes the pain of it. And I think that in Ntozake Shange is trying to emphasize the emotional complexity of Black women. And a lot of times people are not able to accept that that kind of negative affective experience is going to accompany black womanhood, but not in a way that is only sitting there, right? But we can't have the party without the pain, right? I think Janine's story was talking about balancing the ideas of the pain and the party.

And I also think that it's important to place it within context. I mean, particularly with Ntozake Shange. I believe it was in an interview she did with the New York Times. It might have been... No, this was an earlier one in the seventies that Ntozake Shange did around the show where she talks about the inspiration for the title is when she saw this huge rainbow over Oakland, California. And that inspired her because she had been struggling with literal depression and suicide ideation, right? And all of these different emotions that were... It came from a real place is what I'm trying to say, right? It's not just this pretty theatre title. It came from this real place. And she says “that women have as much right and as much purpose for being here as air in mountains do.”

And it reminds me of the Combahee River Collective, right? Which I believe she did some artwork or did some poetry for one of their pamphlets in the seventies. And the Combahee River Collective says Black women are inherently valuable. And so when you just discussed the idea that maybe people were turned off by suicide being in the title, I think for me, I make that kind of emotional leap where I think that people are not able to accept that the emotional complexity of Black womanhood and being faced outright with that insomuch as the title itself referring to that.

Leticia: No, definitely. And I love your connection with the Combahee River Collective. And I think about another controversy of for colored girls, and we got to talk about it. We got to talk about the backlash of Black men to for colored girls when it was on Broadway.

And I mean, there was a Black Scholar issue dedicated to criticizing for colored girls, right?

Jordan: Wasn't that issue “the Black sexism debate”?

Leticia: Yes, yes. I think it was. I think it was. And I have a newer edition of the play because when we went to New York to see it, I grabbed the new edition from the Drama Book—was it Drama Bookstore? The one that Lin-Manuel-

Jordan: Drama Book Shop.

Leticia: Shop, sorry.

Jordan: The Drama Book Shop.

Leticia: I'm a bad theatre person, but in—

Jordan: You're fired. I'm just kidding.

Leticia: But in this specific edition, there is a note from Ntozake Shange called “Beginning, middles, and new beginnings—a mandala for colored girls: musings and meditations on the occasion of the second publication.” And it's written July 2010, and in the larger piece, she sort of discusses the evolution of for colored girls, the places it's traveled, some of her thinking. But specifically, she actually addresses the criticism by Black men of for colored girls. And I'm just going to read it because I think it's really pertinent to sort of understanding the criticism and breathing sort of a larger conversation about interracial dynamics and conversations around patriarchy.

So Ntozake Shange writes, “The reaction from Black men to for colored girls was in a way, very much like the white reaction to Black power. The body traditionally used to power and authority interpreting through their own fear, my work, celebrating the self-determination and centrality of women as a hostile act. For men to walk out feeling that the work was about them spoke to their own patriarchal delusions.” I'm going to read that again. “For men to walk out feeling that the work was about them spoke to their own patriarchal delusions more than to the actuality of the work itself. It was as if merely placing the story outside themselves was an attack. for colored girls was, and is, for colored girls.”

Jordan: And that's how you break it down.

Leticia: You know that meme where it goes, “ratatata?” That's how I feel reading it. But what do you make of that? What do you make of the conversation, specifically, the critiques by Black men of the piece?

Jordan: One, I'm gagged. Two, I think that... I mean, Ntozake Shange literally said it best, right? I know we're going to get into the production, but I was struck by hearing the text and in reading it, because both you and I, we teach this text when we teach our Black theatre courses. And I'm struck by the ideas... It's not even about Black men, good, bad, or otherwise. It is about, like she said, Black women. It is about Black feminine experience, right? It's not about man bashing or any... I mean, yes, there's the critique, right? Of course there's the critique of patriarchy that exists within the text, but it really is about the connections that Black women make.

And it reminds me of the feminist movement. Second wave feminism, which, there's a whole critique there, but consciousness-raising groups, right? The reason why they were so radical and successful is that you could meet other women, other people like you, that were experiencing the same things as you, but that you felt in isolation. And the thing about for colored girls that has always struck me is that it is about how Black women find community with one another. It is not about the hatred of Black men.

Leticia: Yeah, absolutely. It literally ends with the laying of hands, right?

Jordan: The laying of hands.

Leticia: The laying of hands and this sort of witnessing to one another that we see in the production. So let's jump into the Broadway production and the Broadway revival of for colored girls. What are things that stood out to you about it? Camille A. Brown directs it.

Jordan: Yeah. And choreographs it, which I think she's only... I believe she's the second Black woman to do so after Katherine Dunham did it. So shout out to that. I also think that we need to acknowledge the cast that was there. That was amazing. So we have Amara Granderson as lady in orange; Tendayi Kuumba as lady in brown; Kenita Miller, the lady in red; Okwui Okpokwasili, the lady in green; and Stacey Sergeant, lady in blue; Alexandria Wailes as lady in purple; and D. Woods, lady in yellow, which, pause for a moment: D. Woods of Danity Kane fame. My Black millennial heart was screaming on the inside because, one, why didn't I know she was—

Leticia:—Also dance captain of the production—

Jordan:— also, why didn't we know that she... I mean, obviously we knew she was talented because, I don't know about you Leticia, but I was definitely a Danity Kane fan back in the day, but I was not aware of her training with Ailey and her former musical performance in Holler If Ya Hear Me, the Tupac musical. I mean, D. Woods is extremely, extremely talented. So I was just thrilled to see her there. That's a little Easter egg for the millennial crowd. But I think that we also look at the creative team, which doesn't look like a lot of creative teams on Broadway or in this world, right? So we have the composers Redbone and Whitby, who did the original music for the production. Deah Love Harriott as a music director; Michelle Banks, the director of artistic sign language; Jiyoun Chang as a lighting designer; Sarafina Bush on costumes.

I mean, we have this incredible off and onstage creative team of people who don't look like who is normally on Broadway, which is quite literally, usually straight white able-bodied men, right? So I wanted to really highlight that because that is, I think, a huge part of what I think is a success of the production. And we just have this minimalist environment, right? And I think that the minimalism was really effective because for colored girls, it's not about this kind of spectacularized moment of Blackness and even Black womanhood. It is about those quiet things or the kind of mundane or quotidian experience of Black femme life that so that capture me in reading the text, but that really make it connect to the audiences who watch it. I don't know. What do you think, Leticia? What were some things that kind of stuck out for you?

Leticia: Yeah, I think definitely the set. To sort of paint a picture, very minimalist set, lots of colors. We're talking about the rainbow here. And these sort of screens... Multiple screens either create a sort of full picture together or individual pictures. I think at one moment it's a picture of the women actually in the production... specifically their faces, certain parts showing, certain parts not, right? So we're using some media and some projection and some video design, right? But not in any way that was distracting, that I also thought was really effective. And we actually open with something that's not in the script. We open up with in Ntozake's voice, which I loved as sort of one calling in Ntozake into the room, paying homage—

Jordan: The ancestral connection.

Leticia: Yeah, the ancestral connection in that we start with her voice, in that she's brought into the room, I just thought was a really beautiful and effective moment and really actually frames the beginning of the production.

And specifically, when I was revisiting the script for our recording, the amazing first number or... sorry, the first poem and sort of the beauty of it. And specifically, the lady in brown's execution of it. And this moment of joy. You talked about joy just a few minutes ago, this joy that we're actually ushered into the piece with, right? They're dancing. They're making music, right? It's fun, right? I think both you and I were like bumping our head, but I just thought it was a beautiful opening moment to sort of usher us in and also set the stage for what we were about to experience, right?

Jordan: Absolutely.

Leticia: And I think it's really important that Camille A. Brown really focused on that aspect, right? At times, I felt like the women that were performing, wasn't even performing for us... performing for each other. And I thought that was really, really beautiful and something that I always gravitate to within a Ntozake script.

Jordan: Absolutely. One thing we were talking about... Music, just sound in general. The use of the breath was so effective here in this particular production. There's this one absolutely stunning moment by the lady in brown who, to remind you all, was portrayed by Tendayi Kuumba, where she is just... I can't even recreate it because I'm not a performer, but it's this, I don't know, two minute, maybe three minute segment where she's just dancing across the stage. And all you hear is this build-up of her breath, just like... You know that crescendo of breath, like a vibrating breath almost, that you are experiencing. And I've been trying to think about what to make of the moment, I mean, like interpret the moment, but all I know is it landed on my soul. Not to be all hokey about it, but it landed on my soul to just watch her laboring body and to hear the breath go back and forth and back and forth. And I don't know. Leticia, I don't know if you had anything to add to that moment or how that landed on you?

Leticia: Yeah. I think you said it. Right? It's the sort of laboring body, right? I think that is so important to the piece and so important to sort of the legacy of for colored girls. And I think because that moment is actually fairly early, if I remember it correctly, within the production, it actually really sets the stage for the labor that we're literally seeing these Black women, Black femme bodies do on stage, right?

And that it's this sort of building, right? That we're actually seeing this sort of connection. I think about breath. I think about Ashon Crawley's Pentecostal breath—

Jordan: Blackpentecostal breath, yeah—

Leticia: —Blackpentecostal breath, and the use of the breath, and specifically, contemporarily what breath mean. I know in some of my work, I talk about breath with Serena Williams, right? And what does breath actually mean for Black people in this contemporary moment, right? To be able to breathe. To be able to breathe calmly. To be able to breathe more rapidly. For breath to be taken. And I think about all those things in relationship to the moment you brought to the floor. Yeah. So those are sort of my thoughts on that particular moment. One of the things that I was actually really struck by was having the lady in purple be someone who signed.

What I loved about that moment is, to me, it didn't feel like tokenism. It felt integrated very well. I loved that there are moments that are translated for the audience, but not all of them. Right? So the lady in purple also speaks to us. The lady purple signs throughout the entire thing. Sometimes her fellow performers translate the signs. Sometimes they don't. But then there's also these beautiful moments where they're signing to one another and everyone is signing in unison. It makes it not feel to me like sort of a cheap like, “Oh, we just need to include someone who is disabled into this production.” Right? It seems really thoughtful. And I really appreciated that. Did you have any thoughts about that inclusion? I never even considered that as part of a production for colored girls.

Jordan: Yeah. Particular moments that you're talking about where people... I think it was very poignant because she would lead that, right? She was leading the moments when they were signing together. And also, I think it's important to think about the ways that things are communicated within this piece. So yes, we have the text, we have the poetry, but we have dance. And the way that dance is incorporated, or it is integrated in the actual lifeblood and dramaturgy of for colored girls... I'm thinking of lady in purple's poem where, I mean, the way that she used her body, even beyond simply using ASL, right? The way that her movements also were communicating is a part of, I think, in Ntozake Shange's vision for the piece, right?

So it wasn't simply, like you said, a sort of tokenistic opportunity to say, “Oh, look at how inclusive we are.” It looked like a beautiful collaboration, perhaps between Camille A. Brown and the director of artistic sign language that they had on the production that I mentioned earlier, Michelle Banks, and collaborating to think about how to effectively use movement to communicate in different ways of the piece, right? So it didn't seem like it just was relying upon, “Oh, let's caption it. Or let's have someone translate what she is saying,” but more so about how can it be literally integrated into the movement vocabulary of this production. And I think for me, it landed. It landed really well. It was effective. And quite frankly, Alexandria Wailes... It was my first time seeing her performing.

Leticia: Captivating.

Jordan: I mean, literally, anytime she was on stage, my eyes immediately were drawn to her. And in particular, what amazing casting. Yes, all the performers were talented, but I think that they all brought something so unique and different and really speaks to the diversity of Black womanhood and Black femme experience that I would be looking for in a modern production of this play.

Leticia: Yeah, definitely. And I think it really didn't resonate till now, until you said it, that actually using something like ASL and gesture is something that is... It seems like a match made in heaven with for colored girls. Like you said, it seems so connected to the lifeblood of the piece. And I don't know if other productions of this and other places that I'm just not aware of have sort of utilized a sort of similar convention, but I thank you for that contribution, because it's making me actually think a bit differently about the choreography of the piece.

Jordan: And yeah, actually I believe at the 2019 production at the Public, Alexandria was actually a part of that production.

So it's possible that this kind of collaboration and these ideas... We did not see that production. We wanted to so bad, but happy we got to catch it three years later. But it's possible... Not possible that those seeds of ideas or whatever was concretized in that production have followed over, have developed, have grown into what we got to see. And so it makes me curious for future productions of this play and how that can continue to be a part of that. Because I think that it shouldn't just be this one off thing. I think that there needs to be more ways to think about how ability is brought to the conversation in theatre in general, but in these kind of texts, especially something like for colored girls, which you said lends itself already so beautifully to that.

And also, Leticia knows a little ASL, I believe. Right?

Leticia: I do.

Jordan: So, appreciated getting your expertise.

Leticia: Oh, not expert. Wait a minute. Hold up. Not an expert. Know a little bit. It was my language that I took in undergrad was ASL.

One of the things that, before we close this episode out, I really want to address, is the choreography of the piece. And Shange's on record saying that dance is actually really important to the life and work and heritage of Black folks, specifically African American folks. And she says, “It's how we remember what cannot be said.” And I sort of love that framing around it. And for colored girls has such a huge... Choreography is so deeply a part of the piece we just talked about, right? The use of gesture and how it connects so well and the use of ASL.

And after we had seen the production, I had brought up not really a criticism, but just a thought about what for colored girls meant for queer folks, for masculine of center women, for trans women and how a production may address or queer the piece of it. And you said something to me that I thought was really sort of interesting. You said that you saw that in the choreography, that there were moments where the direction in the choreography was trying to sort of queer our approach to for colored girls.

Jordan: That's what I saw. I mean, I think there were moments where the actors were partnered together to dance or to embody parts of the scenes. I know that's a convention within the text because there are times when they are embodying people of different genders, particularly cishet men and looking at things from their perspective in many ways.

But there were other moments outside of that where the actors were partnered together, where it felt like this kind of gender non-specificity in the best way, right? Where there would be sort of more masc roles being stepped into. There would be sort of more ambiguity around these partnerings within the piece. So, I think for me, that was a space... It wasn't all the way, right? The play itself does not explore, on the page, queerness explicitly, but I saw some moments choreographically where that could at least be a conversation that's opened up for someone who is watching those pairings and those partnerings. It was something that stuck out to me. So I think that I appreciated the choreography for opening my particular eyes into looking at the possibilities of what that can open up in terms of queerness.

Leticia: Yeah, I think that's interesting. I was really intrigued by that sort of framing. And I think the piece itself and the form of the choreopoem actually invites these new updates and new conversations that are happening in our contemporary moment that allow queerness to enter the frame in the way that the text may not, like you said, explicitly address. So I just thought it was important in our conversation to bring that up and then to think about what sort of future iterations of for colored girls could perhaps look like. And we see that legacy with Ntozake Shange and other plays that have sort of borrowed the “for Black” whatever it is. And we have some of those suggestions for our reading list. So how about we jump to our reading list, Jordan? What do we have for the good folks today? What are the other recommendations?

Jordan: For plays, we wanted to highlight spell no. 7, which is another choreopoem by Ntozake Shange, as well as all of her other work. But particularly that piece. It is really important as another choreopoem from her. We also wanted to recommend one of our plays that we've covered on this podcast before, What to Send Up When It Goes Down by Aleshea Harris, which continues, in our minds, this legacy of the choreopoem, but also the ways that Aleshea Harris explores Blackness within that piece. And then finally, I am so captured by this piece. I got a chance to teach it for the very first time this past semester, but it is for black trans girls who gotta cuss a motherfucker out when snatching an edge ain't enough by Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi. And you can actually purchase this play on Lady Dane's website.

And the proceeds from this play will go to supporting Black women, Black trans women, and trans women of color. So I highly, highly recommend that play, that poem, that she has written, and to also purchase it directly from her site to support that. Then also, we will never leave y'all hanging with thinking about Ntozake Shange's work, even outside of the space of the play. And so we have a couple of books and articles. One is Dance We Do by Ntozake Shange. It's her most recent book. In that book, she explores the role of dance in her work. So highly recommend that. Then we have two articles. The one article is “Black Feminist Collectivity in Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls” by Soyica Diggs Colbert and “Black Girl Thought in the Work of Ntozake Shange” by Naila Keleta-Mae.

Leticia: Great, Jordan. Thank you for those recommendations. And this was a great conversation. Glad to be back on the mic with you as I said earlier, and looking forward to our wonderful, wonderful season where we have some great guests and great conversations that we can't wait for you all to listen to. So we will see y'all next week.

This has been another episode of Daughters of Lorraine. We're your hosts, Leticia Ridley...

Jordan: And Jordan Ealey.

Leticia: On our next episode, we'll interview Addae Moon, associate artistic director of Theatrical Outfit in Atlanta, Georgia. We have so much in store for you all that you definitely will not want to miss. In the meantime, if you're looking to connect with us, please follow us on Twitter at @dolorrainepod. You can also email us at [email protected] for any further contact.

The Daughters of Lorraine podcast is supported by HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide. It's available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and howlround.com. If you are looking for the podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify, you'll want to search and subscribe to HowlRound podcasts.

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Thoughts from the curators

Hosted by two doctoral theatre students, Jordan Ealey and Leticia Ridley, Daughters' of Lorraine Podcast features reviews of Black theatre productions (mainly in the DC/Baltimore area), current national conversations around, within, and about Black theatre, academic discussions concerning Black theatre, recommendations on Black theatre scripts, and interviews with Black theatre artists. This podcast centers and privileges the narratives of Black theatremakers, scholars, and audiences while also underscoring the need for understanding the influence of Black theatre on the American theatre landscape.

Daughters of Lorraine Podcast


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