On this day, 155 years ago, slaves in Texas FINALLY learned they were free. The Proclamation had been issued 2 1/2 years prior, but due to relative isolation and distance from Union troops, people didn’t hear the news until much later. Over the last few weeks, racial tensions in the US reached a boiling point, and there have been days and weeks of protests against racially-charged police brutality. Today, I would like to use my small corner of the internet to contribute to the cause of raising up Black voices. I don’t pretend to be an expert, and I don’t even really know if this post will accomplish what it sets out to do. I only hope that it is received with the spirit in which it was written: ally-ship.
In today’s blog post, I would like to start a series of brief introductions to some of the Black Artists I admire. I consider myself to be a Theatre (or stage) Actress, more so than a TV/Film actress, so these people are largely connected with Theatre. As I said, these are BRIEF introductions, so please follow the provided links, and find out more about these great people!
We’ll start the series with a fabulous woman that I actually got to meet and work with (albeit briefly) when I was in college!
In 2002, Suzan-Lori Parks became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Her winning play, Topdog/Underdog, is a powerful story about two brothers named Booth and Lincoln, who both like to play 3-Card Monte, though one of them is better at it than the other. (I’ll let you read the play to find out which one.) In one scene, Lincoln, (who actually works as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator) is practicing his death scene, and when Booth declares that it looks “too real,” Lincoln responds by saying, “People like they historical shit in a certain way. They like it to unfold the way they folded it up. Neatly like a book. Not raggedy and bloody and screaming.” …Ain’t that the truth?
When I was in college, I had the privilege to meet and briefly work with Ms. Parks, and she was a vibrant, funny, inspiring woman. (I’m sure she still is, I just haven’t seen her since then.) In her book, The America Play and Other Works, she includes a collection of Essays that further explain how she sees her role in creating Theatre. I will leave you with this excerpt from her essay entitled “An Equation for Black People Onstage.”
So. As a Black person writing for theatre, what is theatre good for? What can theatre do for us? We can “tell it like it is”; “tell it as it was”; tell it as it could be.” In my plays I do all 3; and the writing is rich because we are not an impoverished people, but a wealthy people fallen on hard times.
I write plays because I love Black people. As there is no single “Black Experience,” there is no single “Black Aesthetic” and there is no one way to write or think or feel or dream or interpret or be interpreted. As African-Americans we should recognize this insidious essentialism for what it is: a fucked-up trap to reduce us to only one way of being. We should endeavor to show the world and ourselves our beautiful and powerfully infinite variety.
Visit http://suzanloriparks.com/ to find out more about this amazing playwright!