More than 40 years ago, New York poet and playwright Ntozake Shange’s first and most acclaimed stage performance of “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” made its debut in Berkley, California.
This award-winning and shockingly honest portrayal of the inner and outer life of an American black woman will come to Southeastern Louisiana University’s Vonnie Borden Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, Oct. 3-6.
“For Colored Girls ...” is considered unique within the genre of African-American theater. It has been considered a “choreopoem,” a term coined by Shange, which describes a performance that incorporates poetry, dance, music, and song. Seven black women, each clothed in a color of the rainbow, perform poems from a collection assembled by Shange at the urging of her sister.
Tickets can be purchased from the Vonnie Borden Theatre box office located in the lobby of D Vickers one hour before performance time. General admission tickets are $15; $10 for seniors and non-Southeastern students; Southeastern students are admitted free with university ID.
“It’s a very interesting production because there is no protagonist,” said Sarah Balli, a senior from Bush, who is directing and designing the production as part of her senior project. “It’s an ensemble cast of seven African-American females. There are several scenes where they perform their pieces alone, but also many where they perform together. Who performs what and with whom was put in the stage direction by Shange, and I am staying as true to the text as possible.”
The piece, which won an Obie Award (Off-Broadway Awards) in 1977, includes 21 poems, each recounting or describing the good, bad and ugly parts of Shange’s life as a black woman living in 20th-century America. The performance is intended for an adult audience because of subject matter content that includes rape, suicide and domestic abuse.
“Shange revealed in interviews several years ago that she came up with the name for this piece when she was driving down the highway while in a very dark emotional place,” said Balli. “She had attempted suicide several times before then, and was going back to that place until she saw a double rainbow over the highway. After she passed through it, she began to feel much better. I think that kind of hope is actually beautiful and inspiring.”
The cast of seven includes New Orleanians Taylor Bennett as the Lady in Yellow, Kaysha Barra as the Lady in Green, Jordin Jones as the Lady in Red, and Raven Matthews as the Lady in Brown; Shelley Sneed, of Minden, as the Lady in Purple; Ariana Robinson, of Prairieville,, as the Lady in Blue; and Breyanna Johnson of Dallas, as the Lady in Orange.
Balli, who is white, said she consciously chose this piece to challenge herself and expand her own understanding of race. With only half of the perspective necessary to do Shange’s work justice, Balli relied heavily on the experiences of her cast to bring the performance to life.
“To be a white woman directing a black woman’s play written for black women is quite a humbling experience,” she said. “From our first table reading, I made it very clear to the cast that this was going to be a very collaborative process. Although I can connect to many of these poems as a woman, I can only connect with them to a certain extent because ‘for colored girls’ was and is for women of color. I’m intentionally creating a safe place during rehearsals for my cast to express what these poems mean to them. By doing that, I hope to empower women of color and enlighten everyone else.”
For more information, call (985) 549-2184 or visit southeastern.edu/theatre.