If I had to put a soundtrack to this weekend….possibly Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life.” It was a celebration of women, storytelling and theatrical excellence.
On Friday: I was asked by my awesome publicist, Julia Borcherts, to Co-Host Rick Kogan’s Chicago Classics at Story Week. It was so exciting to be in the midst of the top authors and storytellers in the country.
I was so nervous, I have never Co-Hosted anything in my life, but my husband told me to be myself and that would be enough. I was at home sifting, rather bull-dozing, through my closet and I found this pink Ralph Lauren dress that I hadn’t worn in FOREVER. I was nervous it wouldn’t fit because it was 3 sizes too small. But we thank JESUS for some strong Off-brand Spanx from Burlington Coat Factory and a good belt:
I even got to meet, legendary playwright & actress, Regina Taylor. I was such a geek! When I tell you I have looked up to this woman’s work since the first time I saw her in Lean On Me and heard the music for Crowns! She is an Artistic Associate at the Goodman Theatre & Writer-In-Residence at Signature Theatre. This woman was the first Black Juliet in Romeo & Juliet on Broadway! I was so honoured to just be in the same space as this Golden Globe & NAACP Award winning artist.
August Wilson Celebration: I have been an affiliate blogger with Goodman Theatre for the City-Wide August WIlson Celebration this month. The festival is running NOW till April 19th. It has been an exceptional experience and I am so grateful for the opportunity.
Meeting Black Theatre Royalty:
I got to see the amazing Michele Shay lead a discussion on “The Women of August WIlson.” I was so excited about this event I went to the mall with hubbie and shopped for a brand new dress.
The Panel included Seret Scott, Roslyn Ruff, Phylicia Rashād, TaRon Patton, Constanza Romero and Regina Taylor. This discussion was life-altering!
It was crazy being in the same room with Theatre Royalty. I have looked up to Michele Shay forever! I used to sit and watch the video of her, Viola Davis and Ruben Santiago-Hudson give their LIVES to the STAGE in Seven Guitars at the Lincoln Center Library. There were many topics discussed at the panel, but one really stuck with me.
Society and Sexuality:
How are we seen as African American women? That was the question that resonated with me the most. I have spent the last three years developing Body/Courage and have interviewed people with issues surrounding body image. One of the questions I ask people is: How do you think others perceive you?
In society we can be known as: Angry Black Women; Care Takers; Responsible; Healers; Prayer Warriors; Strong; Leaders; Trendsetters; Hood; Uppity; Bougie and more. Society puts SO much of their historic baggage on us and it is up to the “Strong Black Women” to carry it all. I am tired of being the bag lady. No more bags!
We went through the female characters in Wilson’s cannon and the common thread for all characters were their relationships to other men. The women in this cannon deal with some real: Toni Braxton, Nina Simone, I wanna wrap the sheets around me all day and not get out of bed, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in the shower- HEARTBREAK! Their themes range from cheating men, abortions, self-mutilation and so much more.
TaRon Patton spoke about Risa’s character in Two Trains Running.
Women, in society, are viewed as: submissive, soft, loving, and moveable. Risa’s sexuality was misinterpreted. [Her] beauty and…essence has been turned ugly. She marks herself. This goes back to old slavery stories, where women would cut themselves to look unattractive to slave owners so that they would no longer be misused. – TaRon Patton
This panel had me looking into my OWN life for a hot second. I thought about all of my past relationships with men that CLEARLY did not deserve me. The abuse in those relationships were rampant, but I stayed because I wanted to be the “Strong Black Woman.” I wanted to be everything and more for them. Thank God I smartened up before it was too late.
readers: why do you feel women, sometimes, have this thought process? Why do we sometimes feel the need to be everyone’s support system? Why do we have to have it all together, all the time?
The one thing that is clear is that this work needs to be read today. It will always be relevant. I found myself thinking throughout the ENTIRE panel…that I hope one day someone has the imagination to cast me in one of these powerhouse roles, particularly Tanya from King Hedley II.
I’m big and I have known that for 900+ years. I have never been given the opportunity to work on an August Wilson play in its entirety. There have been so many directors and casting directors that have said: “Well you just don’t FIT the role.” Whether that means I am too young, or too big, I’ve never gotten a shot. So for years I just put his cannon on the back burner, because I felt like I was never good enough to approach his text. It’s funny, because it is the same feeling I had when approaching Shakespearean text in college.
But, Regina Taylor stated so simply: “Being a woman is a place of strength. August gives you space to be who you are. All you have to do is read and bring your full authentic self to the text.”
It was those words that gave me peace of mind and the hope that one-day, when the God feels I am ready to have a shot at Wilson’s work, all I will have to do is bring my full authentic self to the text.