The kind of feminism I understood from the late ’70s is that it’s all interlocking. Every form of oppression is connected. So I always have looked to those in the most marginalized communities, those on the bottom, to really understand what’s happening all the way through the system. And that’s usually poor and black and indigenous women: They’re the canaries in the mine shaft.
– Cherríe Moraga, interview, January 14, 2012
Since I began writing for The Ms. Magazine Blog in the fall of 2011, I have been using that platform to draw attention to and document the work of women of color. Thus far, I have written a blog post speculating as to the possibilities of Diane Paulus’ and Suzan-Lori Parks’ revised Porgy and Bess; introduced readers to Alice Childress and interviewed the artists involved in Arena Stage’s 2011 production of Trouble in Mind; interviewed Cherríe Moraga and promoted her play New Fire; reviewed Lynn Nottage’s By the Way, Meet Vera Stark and interviewed the author, director, and actors; and drawn attention to the history of Pullman porters and maids while promoting Cheryl L. West’s Pullman Porter Blues. My next piece will document work on Tazewell Thompson’s Mary T. and Lizzy K., which, though not written by a woman, is about the relationship between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress Elizabeth Keckly, a freed slave.
The art of women of color, whether created by playwrights, actors, directors, or dramaturgs, appeals to me because it tends to deal explicitly with history, race, class, and gender. I seek out work that reveals the invisible matrices of oppression and represents them for others through language and spectacle. In particular I aim to document the collaborations between white women and women of color on plays about race. My intention is to continue this work at Ms. and also to rewrite each of the essays, incorporating more of the interviews and providing deeper analysis of the plays. I plan to publish a volume that can be used for teaching courses on the artists and their plays.
For more information, see “Alice Childress’ Trouble in Mind: An African American Classic Finds New Life,” “New Fire from Cherríe Moraga,” “Lynn Nottage Brings 80 Years of Women, Race and Hollywood to the Stage,” and “Trains, Porters and a Woman’s Blues.”
As a director, I use a combination of the Viewpoints & Composition and the tools and philosophies of Epic Theater to represent multiple points of view within one theatrical event, disrupt the false binary of gender roles, and explode the social constructs of identity. To this end, I often cast women as characters written to be played by men and vice versa. Sometimes I change the sex of the character; sometimes I do not and the actor performs in drag. I also ask actors to know the sexuality, sex, and gender of their character, and challenge them not to line these things up in binary ways. Costume serves me well here, either in accentuating the sexual features of the actor or in disguising them. This practice works better with something like Shakespeare than with contemporary plays, but I recently cast a black woman to play a “feisty, gay Italian” in The Metal Children, by Adam Rapp, at the University of California at Riverside. The process consisted of determining what the playwright was imagining in describing his character that way and investigating the ways in which those traits might also exist in a black woman. Through such means, I investigate the performance of identity and question what is constructed for us and what we construct.
For more information, see “Destablizing Gender Through Performance.”