Tasila 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.
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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