Monthly Archives: August 2013

#13 ~ What’s Your Back Story: Lady in Purple

‘My love is too sanctified, to have thrown back in my face!’

Image by Natalie KeeneyOf all the lines in the play, Lolia Etomi’s delivery of those 12 words pretty much sold the Cambridge production. On opening night what had been initially a very limp line became a gospel raising hallelujah inciting preach, which increased in intensity every night, until weaves were shaking and hands were waving to rapturous applause and genuine A-MEN SISTA’s for our November finale.

The Lady in Purple is one of those roles which could easily be dismissed, yet as I’ve been working with Etomi over the past 3 weeks an excitement, a strength has begun to ooze through. Made infamous for forgetting a stage entrance during the Cambridge production (she was snacking on some chicken mid show), Lolia Etomi is a stunning young woman with a cheeky smile, a degree in theology and the ability to bring the fun and the realism when things get a bit too ‘serious’.

Her main poem, Sechita, is a mystical, mythic conjuring of ancient spirits and forgotten empires. Spanning between a present day biker bar and the pyramids of Ancient Egypt, the poem uses the demise of a stripper to illustrate the degradation of the black race. Presented as a ‘goddess’, she is reduced to having coins thrown at her thighs as she dances on stage in an alcohol fuelled room, reeking with lust, desire and desolate despair.

Complimented by Nicole Qwamina’s evocative choreography which literally conjures the spirit of dance onto the stage, Etomi’s voice paints pictures across a black canvas, taking her audience from the carnival in natchez to the red garters that are ‘gin stained and itchy on her thigh’. Image by Joseph Mambwe

In contrast Pyramid tells the story of cheating and friendship. When we returned to the poem, Etomi refused to believe that if your friends cheated on you that  they were friends. It was a hard one to run by – what kind of foolishness, how can that be? But in time the poem developed, it questioned the meaning of sisterhood and also desire.

‘he was what they all wanted’

The desire to be affirmed and loved in a sexual way verse the desire to be affirmed and loved in a familial way can be a conflicting scenario. What Pyramid shows its audience is the deep-rooted bonding between women, that need for female solidarity.

A dancer and an actress, Etomi is slowly stepping into her character’s skin and finding these women’s voices. Keep on the look out for how her character develops and watch her interview here

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#12 ~ For Colored Girls: Journeying

Waking up at 7am to travel (initially to Ealing till we moved rehearsal venue) and then to Peckham Rye for the last few weeks is a mission, especially for a director who is not a morning person.

Sadly it has resulted not only in exhaustion but also neglect of this journey process.

Over the past few weeks since I’ve been quiet on the writing front we have begun to produce some videos on the play, short cast interviews which you can find here, digging deeper into who their characters are and who the actresses are outside of their roles. Moreover, Assistant Director Gwenni Hawkins has joined the crew and we have completed almost 40% of the poems which is quite exciting.

Our choreographer, known affectionately as Nicole, has done some stunning dance routines not only to open the play but to enhance some of the poems (she’ll have a person post dedicated to her and her work).

So we’ve worked and progressed – now you get to have a little back story on the lady in purple.

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#11 ~ What’s Your Back Story: Lady in Red

Red1Tasila Banda was the only member of the cast to audition the first time round. When I mentioned I was putting on the play she squealed, before boldly walking up to me and declaring the play was her Bible. I decided to forgive her blasphemy as the pure enthusiasm and excitement that glowed from behind her eyes told me that she was a serious contender. This was what the play needed. People who knew Shange’s work, loved it and would do it a good service.

Tasila Banda is a natural story-teller, and her presence and body awareness made her perfect for the Lady in Red. With her main poem, ‘One’,  about female desire, sexuality, prostitution, fear and the reversal of roles in a relationship, one would expect The Lady in Red to ooze sex appeal. And she does to a certain extent. She is a charmer, a performer, whose morning ritual includes slathering on vaseline till she ‘glitters in heat’.  Into that vaseline she creatively places;

orange butterflies and aqua sequins ensconced between slight bosoms

silk roses darting’ from behind her ear

the passion flower of south west los angeles

meandered down hoover street.

Working with Tasila Banda has led to some of the most rewarding rehearsal . Deeply attached to her performance in Cambridge, when it came to reprising the role in London, initially Banda was adamant about how to present The Lady in Red. Yet there was something more about this sexual, provocative, powerful woman who used  men for her satisfaction. Described as the ‘wrath of women in windows’, a vengeance, a deep pain, lines her words. So came her backstory.

Still  nameless, this woman, who loves other women like Shug Avery loves Celie, is a mother. A teenage mother. Impregnated by the pastor of her small rural town, she scorns religion for its inability to protect her from the sickness of the world. Sent to her grandmother’s during her pregnancy, it is here that the Lady in Red falls in love with the butterflies that, like a literary conceit, continuously flutter throughout her poem. They remind her of the ability to be transformed and the fear of being trapped. IMG_9775

Yet the Lady in Red also contends with what it means to ‘regular’. To be a common black woman.  When her rhinestones, bought from the pound/dollar store, have melted in her bath, when her weave has been removed and her scalp finally gets to breathe, she questions what it means to be beautiful, to be worthy.

Of all the actress I’ve worked with so far, Tasila Banda, though adamant about how she wants to play her character, has been the fastest learner. A slight pause here, an inflection there, a rush of words here and a slow drawl over there, all add colour and shade to her piece. After i’ve coached her through the dynamics once, twice, she returns the next day and has it pretty perfect.

Make sure you keep following the story to see how this sensuous poem evolves.

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#10 ~ For Colored Girls: Latent Rapists

Image by Joseph Mambwe

Image by Joseph Mambwe

Latent Rapists is the first ‘shocking poem’ of For Colored Girls. It looks at the nature of rape through the eyes of 3 separate women and puts the emphasis on rape being committed by a friend.

Earlier on in the year I discovered that the majority of rape victims suffer at the hands of someone they know. That’s right. The likelihood of being raped by a complete stranger down a dark alleyway is less likely than being raped by a family member, a family friend, an acquaintance or a work colleague. It’s a chilling thought.

Whilst in my second year of Uni I thought about the ease with which male friends that came to visit me could very easily take advantage of me – and it would look like my fault.

‘You invited him over for dinner. You must have wanted it. You’re just making excuses because you’re embarrassed. Friends can’t rape you.’

These are some of the excuses we regularly make which turn the victims of sexual assault into the perpetrators.

Because, as the lady in Red, Purple and Blue so painfully state:

The nature of rape has changed.

We can now meet them in the circles we frequent for companionship.

We see them at the coffee-house/with someone else we know.

We can even invite them over for dinner and get raped in our own houses/

by invitation

a friend.

Rape is never ok, never justifiable and it is never the victim’s fault. If you have been abused please seek help. To see how we give a voice to marginalised and abused people make sure you keep following the FCG story, hopefully see you in September.

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#9 ~For Colored Girls London: Selling Out

Selling out isn’t new to the FCGLondon team. When we popped up in Cambridge we were a late show, starting at 11pm. Yet our figures grew consistently from 50 on the first night to 196 on the last. We prepared for London with the mindset of desperately needing to sell out – partly for the financial gain but also because if we were going to put that much effort in, we needed  people to see us.

In under 24 hours we sold 100 tickets. Releasing some reserved tickets to feed the demand, we officially sold out at around 6pm today. That’s called holding nothing back.

So now that we’re faced with a full house, here’s to putting on a stella performance.

Watch this space for further rehearsal and production updates.

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#8 ~ What’s Your Back Story: Lady in Green

Naomi Maxwell" Lady in GreenNaomi Maxwell was a sure fire-hire when I first auditioned her in October last year. She had this drawl to her voice – melodically southern – and a saucy smile. When she was giving attitude she would wrinkle her nose up in a look of disgust, and to top it all, she already had a silver ring in her nose – it was like she was born ready. Slipping into the Lady in Green’s role for the Cambridge Production came naturally to the writer and blogger – it almost seemed like an enviable ‘effortlessness’. Moreover, her heart wrenching poem that culminates into the play’s apex was bound to garner her a standing ovation whether she put in 100% effort or not.

But I’m a director who wants more.  ‘For Colored Girls’ requires the actresses to be verbal painters. Poetry involves bringing words to life on the canvas that is your audience. You have to pop, sizzle, simmer and evoke all at the same time – and this production uses minimal props so all that ‘action’ is located in the voice.

Maxwell’s opening poem ‘No More Assistance’ is the story (or should we say letter) of a woman who is ‘endin’ this affair‘. She has been short-changed in every way possible, and is at last beginning to assert herself – and it’s about time too!

Yet, to remove ourselves from stereotypes and hashed out caricatures a ‘back story’ is always important.

Creating a back story requires you to return to the text and ask why? Within what was initially a rant, the Lady in Green declares:

‘I have left 7 packages on your doorstep, 40 poems, 2 plants and 3 hand-made notecards I left town so I could send you have been no help to me on my job/’.

It’s a line that is easily glossed over, I doubt whether people familiar with the play remember it. Yesterday it struck a chord with me and I questioned Maxwell – when did you (LiG) start writing poems?

Silence.

As a poet, I know that 40 in ‘8 months, two weeks and a day‘ is a lot of poems to be writing, let alone disseminating! What does that say about the character? Not only does she remember and count the days since she’s been with her man, but she’s educated, perhaps a romantic, she has a deep attachment to words.

As we began unpicking her lines the voice of Alysia Grace Williams, a Nurse in the local downtown Hospital emerged. She was caring by nature, shy but with a quiet confidence. She’d experienced emotional neglect when she was a child and that spiralled her into negative relationships with men who used, abused and confused her. She was barren, and the fates had it that she worked on a maternity ward. She yearned to be a mother, and her lousy-ass boyfriend Tyrone (inspired by Ma Badu herself) had only gone and gotten a young girl from the block pregnant. And that’s when the penny dropped.

‘But you are of no assistance’.

The break down above might seem simplistic – it is a simplified version of approximately 8 hours of character development that started yesterday afternoon. But when Maxwell chose the name, the very consonants where a reflection of the character. Ending the poem with a note and a plant pot, we discovered that ‘No Assistance’ is neither a monologue nor a rant, it’s the very letter Alysia writes to Tyrone to tell him that ‘I am ending this affair’. As Maxwell knows only too rightly, that very declaration took a lot of courage.

Watch this space to see how we develop this poem even more and breathe life into the story. Also, make sure you get your tickets, so you can see the final product on September 13th at Canada Water Culture Space.

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#6 ~ The Start of Rehearsals

for-colored-girls-06After an unforeseen pause, rehearsals (and this day by day blog) have finally started.  Over the past few weeks some exciting developments have occurred. The play has moved to Canada Water Culture Space which is linked with the prestigious Albany theatre. Moreover, writer, journalist and curator Hannah Pool has come on board to host the Q&A session. With incredible PR from Afridiziak Theatre News, the play is taking wings right before my eyes. Tickets have been launched, flyers are being finished, the rights are in and the music is almost sorted. Photographers have been contacted, schedules have been sent out, rehearsal space has been attained – anything else? Oh…now I get to start directing.

How do we begin? One of the hardest aspects of re-doing a play is helping your cast to create something new. Like wearing a comfortable jumper, our hands naturally dig into the worn pockets and holes, instead of seeking out new lumps and bumps that might prove more (un)comfortable. We get so used to wearing our jumper/costume/character in a particular fashion we forget that it is possible to wear it inside out or the other way around.

Over the past few days I’ve been working with 3 of the actress on trying to re-create their characters, and whilst being  a challenge it has also been a painful adventure.

More in my next post, in the meantime, make sure to check out our MEET THE CAST article hosted by Afridiziak.

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