for colored girls who have considered suicide … (a laying on of hands)

my love is too complicated to have thrown back on my face

Shange, “no more love poems #4” – for colored girls
lady in red

In rehearsal again. for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. In honour of Ntozake Shange, who died last year, and of Theresa Moxey-Ingraham, who also died last year, and who was in our original production of colored girls in 2014.

This play, this production, gives me joy. And joy is important.

i brought you what joy
i found & i found joy

Shange, “no more love poems #1” – for colored girls
lady in orange

My life over the past year has changed, shifted somewhat. One year ago, I almost died. My kidneys had an adverse reaction to medication/anaesthesia after an exploratory gynaecological procedure and shut down. Acute renal failure, they called it. An insidious way to die. Because I didn’t feel as though I was really ill. I just felt unwell. For ten days, I vomited on a regular basis. I couldn’t eat solid food; whatever I tried to chew and swallow came back up. I was weak, had a dull back pain that felt like trapped gas. I thought I was battling some strange stomach bug, or suffering from food poisoning. But it didn’t get better.

Ten days after the procedure, a diagnosis: renal failure. Admission to hospital for a week. Two rounds of dialysis to see if the kidneys would kick back in. They did. Then a month of recovery while I regained my strength. All this while on unpaid leave from the university to focus on research, writing, and Shakespeare in Paradise.

While I was on leave, my colleagues in Social Sciences very thoughtfully and kindly elected me to be their chair. So when I returned from leave last August I took up residence in the chair’s office in Social Sciences. A real life-changer: the chair’s teaching load is one course per year. One course. Per year. The rest of the time is administration and paperwork—which I can do, but which I prefer to leave to other people. Thanks, Social Sciences.

So the theatre is my saviour, as it always is.

we gotta dance to keep from dyin

Shange, “i’m a poet who” – for colored girls
lady in brown

But this play.

I originally directed it in 2014 out of a sense of duty. This sense came from two directions. One was the fact that our theatre company, Ringplay Productions, had just assumed the management of the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts, and the first thing we did—the very first thing—was convert the building behind the big theatre, which had once been a rehearsal hall and a workshop, and which had spent the better part of a decade as somebody’s church, into a black box theatre. At that time it was a flexible space, a literal black box that could be configured any which way you wanted. Something had to open it.

Two years before that, I had taught a class, Introduction to Theatre, in which one of the plays we studied was Shange’s for colored girls… . The students loved the play, so much so that they begged me to direct it. I wasn’t ready then. We didn’t have a theatre home, and rehearsal was expensive and challenging because we had no permanent rehearsal space. And I didn’t feel right about directing the production for any of the big stages that we have floating around the place. colored girls is an intimate work. It is deeply honest and personal. Any performance of it needs no separation from the audience. So I held off.

coloredgirlscurtain.jpg

But the Black Box was different. It had six entrances to the performance space, all the way around the space. The performers and the audience had no separation at all. So I decided we would work there, in that space, on that floor, and that the women would perform in the centre of the space and the audience would sit in a circle around.

So we produced it. It opened the Black Box, introduced Bahamian audiences to a different kind of theatrical immediacy, a different kind of experience. The women danced and moved among them. They touched the audience—physically, sometimes. If audience members fell asleep, as one poor man did, the women woke them up, with a sharp rap on the shoulder or the thigh. There were only two rows of seats all the way around the space. The performers could touch anyone in the audience, and vice versa. It was electric and wonderful and Shange’s work was full of strength and power and healing.

i found god in myself
& i loved her / i loved her fiercely

Shange, “a layin on of hands” – for colored girls
lady in red/orange

And it is again healing. The play conveys pain, and anger, and despair, and outrage, and hurt. But it also sings joy, and hope, power, and—above all—healing. These are things that slip away over the years, things that one forgets, things that one finds are swallowed up with the everyday.

These are things that surprised me when I came to direct the play. Because I had read it, and I had taught it. And there were moments in the play I’ve always found luminous, powerful, which spoke personally to me: moments like “no assistance” or “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff“, powerful, angry, strong pieces.

But there were also other moments I would skip over when reading, and groan silently when teaching: places where the words were too thick on the page, or where the stories seemed tedious or overwritten, or where there was just too much emotion. I won’t tell you what they were, because they are no longer.

Directing this play, watching the words embodied, playing with the delivery, finding the spaces and the secrets and the possibilities in Shange’s words, putting those words to music, putting the poems in space—this process lifts me up, heals me, every time. Every time. This is a work that is meant to be performed. It is a work that has to be danced, to be moved. Voice is not enough for this work. It needs dance and music and colour. It is fully and wonderfully theatre, and directing it heals me.

i was missin something

a layin on of hands

Shange, “a layin on of hands” – for colored girls
lady in blue/purple

A lot of this, I have to say, is thanks to the wonderful cast of women I worked with, both in 2014, and again now in 2019. In 2014, they were:

Arthellia Powell-Isaacs – lady in brown
Aleah Carey – rainbow
Theresa Moxey-Ingraham – lady in yellow
Myra McPhee – lady in blue
Claudette Allens – lady in red
Erin Knowles – lady in orange
Oniké Archer – lady in purple
Michaella Forbes – lady in green

We have lost three members of the original cast. Aleah Carey and Myra McPhee now live abroad. And last year, Theresa Moxey-Ingraham, our beloved Yellow, died. And so did Ntozake Shange. Both from illness; both before their time. Our revival this year is in their honour.

So we’re remounting this production with a few changes, and two new cast members. In 2014, we added a character, the Rainbow, whose youth and innocence was healing and challenging at the same time. She got lines from speeches assigned to Brown, Red, and took part in ensemble pieces. But now, without her, we are going back to the original idea, where the lady in brown (the amalgamation of all the colours, the colour of our mothers, the colour of Mother Earth) is the healer, the mother. And we are welcoming two new actors to the ensemble. This year’s production features:

Arthellia Powell-Isaacs – lady in brown
Yasmin Glinton – lady in yellow
Valene Rolle – lady in blue
Claudette Allens – lady in red
Erin McKinney (née Knowles) – lady in orange
Oniké Archer – lady in purple
Michaella Forbes – lady in green

We have another challenge, too. The Black Box was renovated and reconfigured. Audiences had trouble seeing plays which were performed in the traditional set-up in the Black Box, so we introduced raised seating. This fixed the orientation of the performances and made it less flexible. We can’t do the play in the round anymore. So we have had to adjust.

So. The Black Box still has six entrances, but we now mostly use four. But we’ve opened up a fifth one and this performance will flip the script on the last one. Last time, the women performed in the centre of the circle. This time, the audience might be surrounded.

Nuff said. You want to see it? Call the Dundas and book. Or check out Eventbrite and buy online. But don’t be missin something.

This is for colored girls who have considered suicide but are movin to the ends of their own rainbows.

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2 thoughts on “for colored girls who have considered suicide … (a laying on of hands)

  1. I saw this riveting play, comprising about 20 of Ntozake Shange’s poems, shortly after I relocated to South Florida in the late 1970s. It is unforgettable. Everyone I know who saw it was moved. SOOOO wish I could get back over to Nassau and the Dundas to see the reprise you will direct soon. I can feel the energy now, with everyone intermingled in the black box theatre. But running so soon after our recent trip, I doubt that would be possible. Break a leg, Nicolette et al! And enjoy your unique position as DIRECTOR this time.
    That said, let me move back to your production of Der Real Ting, my lifelong friend Eddie Minnis’s hilarious take on Granny, Fleabag and all their cohorts in the Bahamas tingum. Tim, Graham, Aidie, Cindy, Gordon and I enjoyed it immensely, laughing till we cried at all those familiar themes and refrains. Ya gotta laugh, even though some of the challenges Bahamians (and mostly everyone else) face in life are disturbing and sad. Congrats to you, Phillip, Fred and all the cast. WELL DONE!!! It was great seeing you all again. .

    Liked by 1 person

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