Local Work in Montgomery County, Maryland
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” --Maya Angelou
The past couple months I had the opportunity to collaborate on a some local projects.
Here's a short debrief:
The Blue Door
Perisphere Theatre in Silver Spring, MD
I was invited to give a post-show talk with Perisphere Theatre.
Here is the theatre's description of the play:
"Tanya Barfield’s Blue Door, a play with original songs, is about a highly educated and successful Black man who descended from victims of slavery, Jim Crow, and lynching. In one sleepless night, visits from the man’s deceased brother, grandfather, and great grandfather force him to relive his family’s history from 1850 to 1995 and to come to terms with his identity and the effect of the past on the present. In Blue Door, according to Variety, “demons are faced with humor and incisive metaphors.” The Seattle Times called the play “razor-sharp, funny and poignant . . . alternately ironic and touching.” Blue Door was presented off-Broadway by Playwrights Horizons in 2006."
Photo Credit: Mavis Burks Hollis
Here is a brief excerpt from my talk:
Blue Door’s world premiere was on April 23rd, 2006 at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California.
Just a few months prior, the nation had mourned the loss of Mrs. Corretta Scott King in February 2006. A few months afterwards in July of 2006 the Voting Rights Amendment of 1965 was reauthorized, by the Amendment Act of 2006. Voting rights is a prominent narrative in the play. We see Barfield focusing on Reconstruction-era and the enthusiasm inspired by the Fifteenth Amendment.
When was Tanya Barfield writing the Blue Door? [research]
October of 2005 –Rosa Parks passed away and subsequently and was the first woman to lie in Honor in the US Capitol Rotunda
Hurricane Katrina in August 23-31, 2005 [Quote Jeanne Theoharis]
What themes are prominent in the play?
Blackness--Understanding self-making and also the white gaze
Citizenship—relationship to the state (slavery; Wartime Emancipation; Reconstruction)
Black Masculinity—What does it mean to be a black man, a black boy becoming…during these periods? Slavery, Wartime Emancipation, and Reconstruction?
Defining History and Memory—a Black Studies Framework
Navigating Generational trauma
What is the Blue door:
Painting the blue door becomes a prominent motif
Harkens to the Gullah, tradition and use of indigo for paint the doors and porches; a plant that was also a crop in the western and central continent of Africa before their arrival.
**Reference** Frederick Knight’s book, Working the Diaspora: The Impact of African Labor on the Anglo-American World, 1650-1850
Lines within the play that cite the Blue Door:
Paint the door blue door when anxious about being sold off and name unborn child jesse (pg 22)
Paint over the blue door before facing white mobs over voting [pg 29]
Painting over the blue door with ancestor, when faced with feeling of loss, divorce, death of brother, loss of father and burden or history…..paint with ancestor Simon at the end of the play [pg 47]
Production Notes: About the play:
Place: “There are no blackouts. Each man will remain onstage for almost the entire play.”
The play occurs between 1851-1995
1851 [one year after fugitive slave act]; Missouri Compromise
1995 Million Man March
The play opens with an invocation in Yoruba:
“Grandfather, Grandmother…I call on you…Fly, people; Fly bird.”
I could not help but reflect on Toni Morrison’s text, Song of Solomon. She also uses the folk iconography of flight and freedom in that novel.
According to Morrison, the novel is about a man who "learns to fly and all that that means. But it's also about the ways in which we discover, all of us, who and what we are. And how important and truly exciting that journey is."
Protagonist: Macon Dead
[story of song of Solomon]
• Published in 1977
• Like Barfield, Morrison is a Black Woman, writing through a perspective that centers black masculinity
• Generational Novel about Macon “Milkman” Dead III and the plot begins in 1931 in “small town” Michigan [NAMED AFTER THE FIRST MACON DEAD, WHOSE REAL NAME WAS Jake Solomon…the Freedmen’s Bureau recorder erroneously listed his name as Macon (place of origin), where he fled from during wartime and Dead (the answer to the question, of where was his father)]
• Ending of the text also focuses on “hope, redemption, and transcendence”
The BLUE DOOR’S FLIGHT THEMES:
THE PLAY OPENS
Simon’s mommas’ song “momma sing a song in the old language, ‘bout once us people got us wings tore offa us. ( Eniyan fo soke Eye fo soke”) pg 19 fligth
Simon looks up at stars after being sexually abused and asks “how long til ya paste my wings back on me.” Pg 21
Simon upon learning of emancipation, goes to Katie’s plantation
“I walk down to the field and Katie seent me coming—and she flies out her arms like they’s bird wings. Katie come runnin’ cross the field toward me—and I aint’ never gonna forget how she runned that day—each foot slammed the earth, with each of them steps, she also gliding trew the air.” ” [pg 45]
Last Quote OF SONG OF SOLOMON: ‘If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it.”
THE WHITE GAZE—ANOTHER MORROSONIAN ARCHETYPE [BLUEST EYES]
For Lewis, the white gaze in the play begins when his white wife, judges his blackness…his decision not go to the Million Man March:
“I wont’ go to the Million Man March and my wife says she wants a divorce.”
[Spike Lee’s Get on the Bus]..another creative work on diversity of black masculinity, with The Million Man March era as a backdrop
“You know, Lewis….you’re black.” [statement from wife about why she wants a divorce]
A commentary on ways of thinking about, defining, presenting ones own blackness.
Interracial marriage…white wife: “…I do not think that you should use the fact that I’m white as an excuse to erase your history.”
VISIT FROM BROTHER REX
Brother Rex: “Who is your intended audience?....White people.”
The white gaze—it is Lewis’ father who cares about the “high profile white” reviews. It is Lewis who seems to care the most about his father’s review of his book and the black publication that called him the [sin-til-ating] “scintillating mind.” (pg 30)
At the play’s ending:
“Dad’s gone; my brother’s gone; my wife is gone. I am my own audience watching myself grieve.” (44 ) [Lewis]
IMPORTANT LESSON: Calling on the ancestors
Lewis summons Simon for the first time [pg 44]
For an ultimate lesson from the Playwright Tanya Barfield
WHAT WILL YOU DO ABOUT YOUR GRIEF? KNOWING YOUR GRIEF IS NOT YOURS ALONE. YOU SHARE WITH GENERATIONS WHO CAME BEFORE YOU. THEY SURVIVED WITH AND INSPITE OF IT…SO CAN YOU.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH PROGRAM AT MONTOGMERY COLLEGE
I collaborated with a colleague--Dr. John Riedl--in a program about Black History Month. Our talk answered the following questions: Why is Black History Month in February? Where did it come from? Where do the themes come from? What is this year's theme?
One of my mentees, Anne Mutumbo, made the flyer. This month's theme was Black Health and Wellness.