Associate Professor of Theatre Jd. Bowman’s only frustration in producing the McPherson College’s next show is that they haven’t produced it sooner.
He is directing “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf,” which will be performed Feb. 2 to Feb. 4. The all-female cast is comprised of students and alumni.
Challenging audiences was one of the top reasons for producing the play by Tony Award-winning playwright Ntozake Shange.
“For the past five years, I’ve seen a growing division in our country dealing with issues of race. I thought, ‘If white people don’t know African-American pop culture, how can they possible understand the decades of change that have been happening to that culture?’ I guess this is my way of educating our campus and our community,” Bowman said. “Also, I love this piece. It has grown into being poems about being different, needing confidence, embracing otherness. I want to share some of the beautiful things about this piece with my home community.”
The play consists of a series of inter-connected storytelling poems told by women who are identified only by the color of their costumes. Shange’s 1975 play created the form of “Choreopoetry” – a blending of poetry, dance and music. The poems’ subjects are challenging and difficult – including rape, abortion and domestic violence — but are written in vernacular language and rhythms that mimic regular speech. The original 1976 production on Broadway received the Tony Award for Best Play and was adapted into a book, a television movie, and a theatrical film.
“Here’s a piece that was written 40 years ago and yet these women are still breathing life into it and making it current. The author has even revised one of the final scenes to include a scene about HIV/AIDS. In the 1990s, the highest growing population of new HIV cases was African-American heterosexual women. So the author saw that as important enough to include in this piece,” Bowman explained. “Interestingly enough, one of the biggest selling pop albums last year was Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade.’ That album had so many references to this play, it really pulled the work into today’s crowd. We’re using songs and poems from Beyoncé mixed in with Ntozake Shange’s words to create this modern art piece.”
Bowman pointed out that this script is iconic in some circles — almost cliché from overuse — yet many students graduate without ever hearing one of Shange’s monologues. What he hopes to do is to both educate his students in a classic play, while giving the greater community a glimpse into another culture.
“Someone told me that I shouldn’t produce this show because ‘McPherson doesn’t have the audience for a show like this.’ I responded that this is exactly the reason we need to produce a show like this,” Bowman said. “If we can learn and understand other aspects of cultures, won’t that help us understand our own areas of culture as well? This is how I build a bridge.”
“For colored girls…” provides a glimpse into what it meant to be an African-American in the U.S. in the 1970s, but has grown to reflect many voices in America that are silent or unspoken.
“Representation matters,” Bowman said. “This show gives a voice to usually silent topics and cultures for central Kansas. The performers have shared that being involved in this show has given them a sense of ownership and pride in playing these roles. That certainly is an accomplishment – regardless of how the final performance turns out.”
Tickets to all shows are $5 for adults and $3.50 for children ages high school and younger as well as seniors.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2-4 in Mingenback Theatre. Reservations are required by contacting the theater box office at 620-242-0444 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MacSentinel.