Pearl Cleage revisits “Blues for an Alabama Sky”

I had the opportunity to meet playwright/novelist Pearl Cleage for the first time while I was a contractor for the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. At the time, I was helping the theatre re-imagine its community engagement programs, and Pearl was hosting a series called “Page to Stage with Pearl Cleage.” “Page to Stage” was a pre-show talk Pearl conducted with the audience about an hour before each show. I remember watching her and thinking, wow this woman really loves what she does. I could tell that words were her friends and that Atlanta was her didactic playground. I recently had the opportunity to formally interview Pearl about the 20th anniversary production of Blues for an Alabama Sky, which opens at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta this week. She wanted to make sure that the production still “stood up after 20 years,” and based on the feedback I’ve been hearing from previews, it does.

Read it here: http://www.americantheatre.org/2015/04/16/blues-for-an-alabama-sky-celebrates-its-20th-birthday-at-the-alliance-theatre/

Real Women Have Curves

Seven years ago I played the role of Rosali in the play Real Women Have Curves at The University of Georgia, which changed my view of theatre forever. The play was written by Chicana playwright Josefina Lopez in 1995. Dealing with issues of immigration, domestic violence, body image, and feminism, the play resonates with audiences today.

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Viviana Chavez, Jeniffer Tillman, and Kelundra Smith in UGA’s production of Real Women Have Curves, 2008.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview the director and cast members from Teatro del Sol’s upcoming production, which opens this weekend. It reminded me of the lifelong friends I made during my college production, and the ways in which the play resonates with and deeply touches the actresses who play five curvy Latinas in a sweatshop in East LA.I was recently maid of honor in our “Estela’s” wedding, and regularly have lunch dates with our “Ana.”

Check out my preview of the show, which is a part of Aurora Theatre’s Spanish language theatre initiative in Lawrenceville, Georgia: http://www.artsatl.com/2015/04/preview-teatro-del-sols-real-women-curves-celebrates-latino-heritage-struggles/

Q&A with playwright Dominique Morisseau about DETROIT 67

DominiqueMorisseau Headshot  Last Monday I interviewed international playwright Dominique Morisseau about her play Detroit 67. It runs at Atlanta’s Southwest Arts Center, February 10 – March 8. We chatted a lot about her hometown of Detroit, and how she aspires to be the scribe for the people she grew up with. Below is a teaser of our conversation. Click the link below to read the full interview.

ArtsATL: The “n-word” is used a lot in this play. Why did you choose to use it?

Morisseau: I usually never use this word in plays. I always try to find another word for how black people describe each other. I got to a point in my writing where nothing else worked. I was censoring myself as a writer by not letting my characters speak for themselves. I researched and started talking to my parents, and I asked them to just be with me in a basement in 1967 with [their] friends. What would [they] say? My mother’s hilarious answer was, “Well, the bad girls would say ‘nigger.’” They didn’t want to admit to me that they used the “n-word.”

I was thinking about my responsibility as an artist, and I know that to my elders, it may hit them wrong because they have worked so hard to bury that word. But on the flip side, I have to not try to correct my people, but rather let them see themselves reflected back to themselves, and then they can make the choice to do something different.

– See more at: http://www.artsatl.com/2015/02/preview-playwright-dominique-morisseau-detroit-67/#sthash.krOza7EP.dpuf

Q&A with Rain Pryor

rainpryor

I interviewed actress, singer, and comedian Rain Pryor, daughter of famed comedian Richard Pryor, about her one-woman show Fried Chicken and Latkes. Here’s a taste of our conversation:

ArtsATL: Do you remember your first school play?

Rain Pryor: The first school play I ever did was Winnie the Pooh and I played the ass Eeyore, because — this should be in my play, but it’s not. I auditioned to play Raggedy Ann, but I didn’t get to play Raggedy Ann, I got to play a gingerbread girl, because they were like, “There are no black Raggedy Anns.” Winnie the Pooh was always played by a white boy, so it wasn’t like I was going to get to play Winnie the Pooh.

 

“theatre is “a white invention, a European invention and white people go to it””

Acclaimed British actress and director Janet Suzman probably wishes she could rewind back to the time where she said “Theatre is a white invention, a European invention, and white people go to it. It’s in their DNA. It starts with Shakespeare.” Talk about a shit show.

As someone who has worked doing marketing and public relations for non-profit theatres, I can say that getting people of color to become a recurring part of the audience is a challenge that theatres have faced for 30 years. However, to say that ethnic minorities do not go to the theatre because theatre is a white invention is uninformed. I know plenty of Asians, Latinos, and black people who enjoy going to the theatre, and do so frequently. What I don’t know of is many theatre companies who produce work starring and written by Asian, Latino, and black people.

People like to see people who look like them onstage, and they like to see stories that they can relate to onstage. Doing one play with a black person does not guarantee a black audience. Not all people in any ethnic group have the same interests or experiences. I’d like to know what media outlets and community engagement events/programs the Print Room used to promote this play.

I have a feeling that Suzman did not intend to be offensive when she made these comments. She was probably just frustrated, as most artists are, by the lack of ethnic audience representation in the theatre. However, to simplify theatre as a white man’s invention is silly. There are many socio-economic, education, and political barriers that keep people of color away from the theatre in colonized countries. However, that does not mean that they are not creating their own theatre outside of the white establishment. Where there are people of any race/religion/culture/ethnicity, there will always be theatre. That has been the truth since the beginning of time.

Below are links to two responses that leave her without a leg to stand on:

Janet Suzman says black people aren’t interested in theatre. How ridiculous by Bonnie Greer

Theatre does not have one simple definition, of course. People of African and Asian descent have been making it for thousands of years, in open spaces, in temples and on the road.”

“To have a mature career as a theatre-maker of colour is practically unheard of, and so a tradition, a way of being, cannot be passed on, cannot be taught. We are always “in development”; “vibrant”; “emergent”. Our voices are at the mercy of others. We must always explain. Start again.

Actor Janet Suzman criticised for calling theatre ‘a white invention’ by Dalya Alberge and Mark Brown

“The sharing of stories between performers and audience stretches across every single civilisation beginning with the oral tradition of re-enacting folk tales or religious myths, graduating into more formalised forms of structured staging. But this shouldn’t be an argument about what theatre is or who ‘invented’ it. This is a more profound discussion about the relevance of the stories we tell and for whom we tell them.”