Updated: Feb 14, 2020
When I look around the American theatre today I see Black women killin’ the game!! Not that we haven’t always been; as far back as the mid-to-late 1800s, there is documentation of Black women producing plays, creating space for Black stories, and making opportunities for talent. In 1880 Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins is cited as being the first Black person to produce a musical drama, it was called Slaves escape: or the Underground railroad. During the early parts of the 19th century, a playwright named Georgia Douglas Johnson opened up her home to her peers as a space for ideas and encouragement to be exchanged, they called it the S. Street Salon. Even during a time when slavery was in our close rearview and Jim Crow upon us, Black women have been at the vanguard of art - creating safe spaces for it and utilizing it to call out oppressive systems. Now, and so deservingly so, our contributions have garnered much more visibility and even more importantly, we are recognizing ourselves!
We are leading the charge - shaping and shifting conversations around how we engage this art form. More of our plays are being produced, going to Broadway, we’re transitioning into leadership roles and positions of influence; we are transforming institutions and organizational structures; developing our own platforms and in the spirit of Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, we are from the ground up building our own theatre companies. You’d be hard-pressed to graze around the regions these days and not find groves of Black women who are doing game-changing work. I see y’all and you are doing the damn thing.
As I observe these contemporary women through articles they’ve written/published, shows and organizations they choose to be apart of and support, posts on social media, etc. I am unequivocally motivated. The vision is clear and impulses strong, you can tell by the moves they’re making. Black women aren’t playing small, they are cultivating new ideas, dreaming up and manifesting new working conditions and worlds.
Over the last year as I’ve witnessed Black women occupy more space, I have felt called to investigate these women beyond just the professional scope. I came to wonder what sorts of practices these women engage in outside of their titles that allow them to show up so boldly in their work. I had no idea what I would do to act on these curiosities, but I knew I wanted to be in communion with these women. In our industry, we’ve seen how profitable the contributions of black women and black artists can be. However, we are rarely even seen or valued outside of those contributions; these interviews want to celebrate the wide breadth of humanity and the spirit of Black women. This new series opens us up to a fuller (and in no way complete) range of who these women are.
In an interview, Ntzoke Shange once said: “I write for young girls of color, for girls who don’t even exist yet so that there is something there for them when they arrive.” This is also at the crux of why I feel this undertaking is important. I want to encapsulate this unprecedented time in history “for the black girls who don’t even exist yet”. The ones who will walk in the footsteps and voyage more unchartered territory.
I am excited to welcome you to this nuanced tapestry of conversations with Black women working in various capacities throughout the American Theatre, some you know, some you’ll get to know. I approach each exchange with: What’s bringing you joy right now? Then follow up with inquiries like: What are you most passionate about? Can you share with us some of your dreams? I am interested in how these questions resonate differently with each person. I hope this string of intimate interviews proves to be a cross-peer source of inspiration, a resource tool for upcoming generations, and for us all.
- to increasing the visibility of the many opportunities that exist inside the field
-to more black girls seeing themselves represented across the arts sectors
- to imagining and manifesting worlds where joy and care are at the forefront of everything we do.
PRESENTING: BLACK WOMEN OF THE AMERICAN THEATRE 2020. You're welcome.
For the Culture,