"What To Expect"

BlackPlayBook seeks to re-vision "black play"as cultural production that counters gender, race and class- based oppression. As such, BlackPlayBook performs within a womanist/black feminist tradition on a "play-ground" of black performance, scholarship and activism. BlackPlayBook references a special issue of Theatre Journal v57, n4 (December 2005) that asks, "What is Black Play?"

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Black Love and Politics at the DNC; or “Introducing… President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama in Mahogany 2012!”

"For Barack, success isn't about how much money you make, it's about the difference you make in people's lives." ~@MichelleObama #DNC

"Success is NOTHING without someone to share it with" Billy Dee Williams as Brian Chambers, Mahogany, 1975

Michelle Obama's 2012 Democratic National Convention (September 5, 2012) speech was, by all accounts, the greatest that a first lady has ever delivered. Mrs. Obama's
testimony/tribute to American values was inspiring as she, in part, reflected on her and the President's having endured being "so young, so in love and so in debt." In fact, Obama's anecdotes of education, hard work, sacrifice, grace and humility may have only been upstaged by her glamour. Our FLOTUS' hair was "laid to the gods" and, according to a Facebook post by performance studies scholar, E. Patrick Johnson,"The FIRST LADY gave you face, drag, and knowledge for your mind. WORK!" Her (overall)performance was flawless and not in a superficial way that basketball, Hollyweird and hip hop reality wives strive to appear, but it was achieved through a confluence of many unseen communicative apparatuses that are not limited a sound mind, a loving heart and a humble spirit.

The image of a modelesque brown skinned Chicago native campaigning for her politician (POTUS, no less) husband brought tears to my eyes and a reference to my mind. I went on YouTube to see if I could find the last scene from the 1975 cult classic "Mahogany" so I could post it to my Facebook account with a joke about how the FLOTUS' speech made me want to deliver the, "well Mr. you've got my vote" line when it hit me. I am not the Tracy Chambers who would to deliver the line to Brian Walker (not to speak of the soulful kiss that followed), Michelle Obama is! Michelle and Barack Obama are a 2012 version of Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams!

"Mahogany," produced by Motown and directed by Berry Gordy, was panned by critics but did well at the box office and can still be caught on black cable stations. The film is a cautionary tale about a talented but struggling fashion designer, Tracy Chambers (Ross) who meets and falls in love with Brian Walker, an audacious (yes I used that word on purpose) yet hot-headed, Chicago politician (Williams). When Walker begins to chauvinistically expect her to put her dreams down to support his, Tracy leaves him to follow Sean McAvoy, a top fashion photographer (Anthony Perkins) who has decided that he wants her as his next project (he renames her "Mahogany"). McAvoy wisks her away to Europe. In Italy, Tracy becomes a world renowned model and gets (over)exposed to all the trappings that go with it: a jet set lifestyle, drugs, "freak parties," that include the biggest freak of them all, McAvoy, who is revealed to be an impotent sociopath. Tracy adjusts to and enjoys her new life but when tries to integrate her own designs into her cover shoots, McAvoy humiliates her. In a final bid to control her, he attempts to kill them both, shooting pictures all the while. Tracy survives the ordeal but only suffers more humiliation when another "benefactor" tries to bequeath her the clothing line she's always wanted. Lucky for Tracy her new sponsor is generous to a fault and allows her to return home to Chicago when she cannot return his love.

It is hard to imagine that Michelle and Barack were not influenced by "Mahogany" even though it is not hard to re-imagine them in it. President Obama doesn't mention it in his memoir, but I can't help but wonder if our POTUS' decision to enter (Chicago) politics was influenced by Williams' ultra debonair movie role. Do the Obamas privately joke about their resemblance to the storied cinematic couple? Oprah Winfrey, the couples' contemporary, has often remarked about the impact that Diana Ross' image had on her as a teen. As part of Generation Jones (those born between 1954-1965) the President and First Lady were not only among the first to integrate American schools, they were the first to benefit from Motown's combined visual and sonic aesthetics. 

Although it was initially restricted to album covers, Motown's visual aesthetics eventually leapt on to the silver screen. Motown's movies, especially
"Lady Sings the Blues" (1972) and "Mahogany," are largely cited as vehicles for Ross' talents; however, these films also functioned as representations of black love and politics in a post Civil Rights era. Ross' characters were often tortured by their talents and ambition while Williams played a conscious yet cool leading man who was wise and willing enough to put love first. 

Black feminism was not fully realized in these movies. Ross' larger than life
glamour was featured as a beauty ideal that countered Hollywood's blonde, blue eyed standard.  Interestingly, within the context of Williams and Ross onscreen love relationships, Ross' beauty was scaled to size. Williams and Ross' Black love was represented as even larger than Ross' eyes and ambition, a tall order indeed. Black love was not only real, it was surreal. Even further, Black talent served as a dimension of this love. In "Mahogany" especially, romantic love resulted from merging the talents of these "young, gifted and Black" individuals. The (secular) moral of both movies seemed to reflect that "when ambition is grounded in service, it serves as Black love's backdrop."

In 2012, Michelle and Barack Obama, our FLOTUS and POTUS, respectively, are real life, more improved, versions of Tracy and Brian. This is largely due to the fact that Michelle did not have to go to Europe and get "turned out" before returning home to use her talents to support her husband. She supported him from the beginning. When Barack met Michelle at the law firm where he had secured an internship and she was already employed on a full time basis, he didn't have to end up reminding her that "success is nothing without someone to share it with." Michelle didn't dismiss him as a loser
and leave him to pursue her dreams because of his raggedy car. I'm sure that her strong parents provided her first and best model but I can't help but wonder whether or not "Mahogany's" moral served as a reminder? Did the movie's message resonate with the Obamas in a way that helped them remember what was important during the hard times? Like their on screen prototypes, President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama found a way to get and stay together while using and growing their talents at the same (damn) time.

Unlike "Sparkle" and "Dreamgirls," two other black girl coming of age stories, "Mahogany" doesn't need to be updated and remade. Michelle and Barack already (re) produced it. This time real life didn't just imitate art, it was better than the original.


Monday, April 9, 2012

BlackPlay Production: "Saving White Face," a 2012 lynching drama

On Thursday April 12, 2012,"Saving White Face," (SWF) a lynching play that depicts a fictionalization of Emmitt Till's 1955 lynching, will be (re)staged as part of Fort Valley State University's Research Day 2012: "Scholarship in Action." The cast is made up of a FVSU drama club member, Amanda Allen, as well as Peach County High and Clayton County High School drama students, A.J. Browning, Ross Mathews and Brannon Roche. Mrs. Monica Nix, Peach County High's drama instructor, rounds out the "communiversity" based cast. SWF examines lynching as a everyday, Western hegemonic practice that reinforces a cultural fiction, white supremacy. Also, SWF foregrounds black women's anti-lynching activism, domestic violence as a preliminary lynching performance as well as womanist/feminist coalitional politics. In tribute to Trayvon Martin, details of his February 2012 murder are incorporated. Originally, SWF was staged as an internship project to satisfy a doctoral degree requirement. Currently, I am completing a book length manuscript that documents how SWF "stages a lynching."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

“Crowns-Ft. Valley (March 1-4, 2012) Production Notes”- End of Week Two

This past Friday, which marked the end of the second week of rehearsals for Crowns- Ft. Valley, ended on a very high note. I’m talking a Minnie Riperton high note! Jade Lambert Smith, our assistant director, completed her two week “Introduction to acting/theater” workshop and we all hated to see her go! Our cast, a combination of Fort Valley State University students and staff as well as Fort Valley community members, learned memorization, vocal techniques and ensemble strategies. The multi-generational cast took to Professor Lambert’s teachings “like ducks to water,” even exceeding her expectations. We ended the session by gathering in a circle to pray and sing “This Little Light of Mine” which truly reflected the spirit of our production here in Middle Georgia. Forgive me if I’m a little ahead of myself since this is the first time in a while that I’ve gotten to share our process. We cast the play late last fall but it took until just last week to secure someone to play “Man” (“A good ‘Man’ is hard to find”- lol). Our cast members are as follows: Mrs. Darrell Fobbs as “Mother Shaw,” Kristie Kenney as “Mabel, Faith Ford-Palmer as “Wanda,” Ashley C. Williams as “Jeanette,” Brittaney Carter as “Velma” and Britni Moore as “Yolanda.” Check out our Facebook page where we post pics and updates: To support our cast, we’ve “imported” our director, Tom Jones, and assistant director, (the aforementioned) Jade Lambert Smith, all the way from Atlanta (1.5 hrs away). Our production crew is made up of FVSU staff and students including Tauheedah Asad, stage manager; Amanda Allen, asst. stage manager; Dana Jefferson, understudy and production asst. and Markia Mitchell, production asst. We are a dynamic group! Finally, I must remark on the rich context into which this play will be birthed. Middle Georgians still practice some of the traditions upon which “Crowns” is based. In fact, Mrs. Fobbs (Mother Shaw) is a primary resource for these traditions and she’s been able to tell us where to find them. As part of our research, some of the students and I plan to attend a “joint communion and feet washing” at the end of the month. Our director Tom Jones, informed us that the feet washing tradition is a part of “celebrating death” since you will get to join the ancestors (conversely, birth is mourned). There are several Primitive Baptist churches in the area where we may get to experience these traditions to make the production richer. Needless to say, working on this production is causing my performance based research agenda to grow by the minute; it’s proving to be an embarrassment of riches! In addition to the ring shout, I am thinking/writing about Black women’s traditions of adornment and cultural criticism. This should keep me busy for the next couple of years! This week, the cast moves into rehearsing the music under the direction of my FVSU colleague, Bruce Thompson. Please believe, we will be raising a mighty shout here in Ft. Valley! Be sure to check back for more updates and pics, too!