Representation Matters & Other Colorful Quips...
A reflection on the past few months....
Magical moments, games, Meisner techniques, and tears have filled the last few months of my life. For some this may sound nerve wracking, undesirable or even crazy; but for me, it has been everything I wanted and then some. I cannot think of a single way I would have preferred to spend my time. The first moment I read this play; the first moment those words hit me I was roped in. This was a coming of age story that I could really believe in. When Last We Flew by Harrison David Rivers is not only a thoughtful coming of age story but a beautiful piece of theatre. It challenges social norms, not just about black teenagers, but about the homosexual community as well. All black fathers don’t leave because they are lazy, all black students don’t perform poorly in school, and all black mothers are not sassy.
When I was first asked to be a part of this project I was unsure of myself and how I would even be able to fit into the project. This may come as a surprise to some that have met me, but I never felt like I belonged in the RVA Theatre community. More often than not I felt like an outsider. At best in this community I have felt like a caricature that people acknowledge because I like to dress nicely and have been known to don a wig or two. However, all of the finger snapping, neck popping, and “sassy” banter became tired very quickly. I encouraged it for far longer than I should have (and I will take blame for that), but I am only one person and it is hard to show the world that I am more than eye-rolls and brightly patterned pants when that is all that has been fed to them via the media their entire lives.
It is hard to get energized about projects where every day you will be reminded that this is how the world around sees you and more often than not that vision is of a top hat wearing, singer that overcomes the only struggle that America seems to associate with blackness. Slavery. Being marginalized or not feeling like you are being represented is a cause that is finally gaining some traction in the mainstream world. In this community I have shied away from the theatre because roles for African Americans as slaves and servants were tiring, discouraging, and trite. Living in Richmond, which demographically is a majority African American city; it is almost impossible to see Blacks being celebrated as regular Americans. American is often a loaded word for many that is a default term for White. But it is so much more than that. Owning a home, having a car, going to work, providing a n education for your children, travelling and saving for retirement are ideals and dreams that are held by all Americans no matter their color.
When Deejay first approached me about this project I was nervous. Not because I did not think it would happen but that I was being asked so that there could be a chocolate face associated with the project. I know that sounds harsh, but it is honest and I am not saying it in a negative way. Shaping stories about African Americans requires the voices and experiences of people that have actually lived the experience and I commend TheatreLAB not only for recognizing this but for being so committed to bringing voices to people who do not always feel represented or recognized in the world they walk around in everyday. Particularly as a member of a marginalized group this play gave voice to people who otherwise would not be represented or would be so heavily caricatured that they would be unrecognizable as people.
Asst. Director, when last we flew