The Colored Museum

The Colored Museum

A group of us went to the True Colors production The Colored Museum.

First, it was great to see the new Porter Sanford III Performing Arts Center. Great venue!!

The play was very interesting–after an introduction that consisted of a flight attendant giving us directions about flying on the Celebrity Slave Ship, which was partly funny and partly informative, each scene was an “exhibit” in the museum. The flight attendant, very eager for us to assimilate to the times we were traveling to, asked us to repeat after her: “I don’t hear any drums, and I will not rebel.”

That was funny in itself because I’ve had conversations with friends about how drums and music have always been so integral to the African American culture. I think unbeknownst to many, rhythm has been a means of communication beyond the obvious–our souls are tied to certain sounds and we react to them subconsciously. So as an aside, I definitely agree with those who say we have to be uber cognizant and picky about what we’re listening to.

Anywho, my favorite “exhibits” were one that I called the War of the Wigs, where two wigs, one a proper long and straight and one a spunky afro. At the beginning of the exhibit, the woman who owned the wigs wasn’t aware of their conversation about her and her need to drop her zero boyfriend. They talked about how she switched her hair depending on what he was interested in or where they were going. Then, the wigs began to argue about which one of them she should wear to the break-up lunch. That’s when it got super hilarious. They eventually made their ability to speak and observe her life known, and of course she was floored. It’s amazing how our hair is so tied to our emotions and thoughts and even interests.

The other exhibit that had me completely rolling on the floor was the Tyler Perry-like episode, where everything was way overdramatized. The usual suspects were there–the mama sitting on the couch, her overly angry 30 year old son who can’t get ahead in life no matter how hard he tries, the wife who is miserable and has a dream of more but is stuck, and the sibling who has traveled the world and has a different outlook. These times 10. Eventually, “the man” shot the angry black man, and the cast began to sing him back to life. The lyrics went a little something like this:

If only he had been born into a black musical… no one ever dies in an all black musical…

Another one I enjoyed was of a man who was trying to throw away his blackness. He threw away his albums, including some Stevie Wonder!!, certain clothes, etc. Then “the kid,” presumably his childhood spirit, fought with him over it. After a long, funny battle, he ended up throwing “the kid” away too. It really made me wonder what some will do to “fit in” into mainstream majority–and if doing all that actually works. If they ever feel like they “arrived”–and if they do on the surface, what they feel when they go to bed at night.

There were also a couple of exhibits that I didn’t quite understand… Maybe they were too deep for me? One was of a soldier who died (I think) at battle and realized that no matter what, the soldiers who would make it back home would never find happiness. So he proceeded to kill them all.  Yeah… I dunno, folks. Shrug.

The other one I really didn’t get was about a little girl who gave birth to a bunch of eggs. I thought I got it–she was a poor black girl whose mother never told her anything positive about herself, and she ended up getting pregnant by a delivery boy or something. Well, I thought I got it until her mom locked her in a room for several days and she laid an egg. After that, shrug.

Overall, though, The Colored Museum made me think. About all the different “stereotypes” and truths of the African American culture, and how many things seem opposite but all apply. And even how some things that seem positive can really be negative, and the other way around. The play runs through Sunday. You should totally get tickets and check it out. Then log back on and tell me what you thought (and explain what I didn’t get). Enjoy the weekend!

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Feature Friday: Gut Bucket Blues

Feature Friday: Gut Bucket Blues

My neighbor graciously invited to attend Kenny Leon and True Colors’ Gut Bucket Blues.  Feeling slightly important on the front row, I was captured by the story line, cursing, and phenomenal music (although pretty upbeat to be the blues, but really great nonetheless).  If you haven’t seen it, you simply must, and you only have this weekend to catch it before it’s gone.

I have no idea who this person is. The actress playing Bessie doesn't look like this, and the real Bessie doesn't look like this. This is the only thing that threw me off about the play. (But still go see it.)

I had heard of Bessie Smith, but I had never really known anything about her story.  I just knew she was considered a great blues singer.  Well, this lady had a loud, crazy, interesting life, and it made me wonder if some people have soap opera lives just so that someone in a future generation can become inspired and create a production like David Bell did.  Being the inquisitive person that I am, when I got home, I googled her to see how much of the play was true to her life, and it seems that all of it was based on what really happened except the way she ended up in Atlanta to start her career.

Bessie Smith started out as a orphan being cared for by her abusive sister Viola who would lock her in the “shit house” (outhouse) as punishment.  She and her brother Clarence made money by singing in front of businesses.  Bessie eventually got “discovered” by the infamous Ma Rainey and learned stage presence from her. Once she launched her solo career, Bessie sold her songs like hot cakes.  She was the highest paid black entertainer in her time.  BUT history is still repeating itself.  She wasted her money on stuff, a bunch of meaningless-in-the-grand-scheme stuff, on illegal booze, and on her wack, abusive husband.  Seriously, by the time she passed away, she left nothing–didn’t even have enough to buy herself her tombstone.  And according to Wikipedia, the money was raised twice to buy her one (she had thousands at her funeral–people LOVED this foul mouth, hoochie coochie woman who I started to love during the play), but her crazy, awful husband (that seems much worse than Ike was) pocketed it.  She passed in 1937 but didn’t get a tombstone until 1970.  The highest paid black entertainer of her day.  The Empress of the Blues.  No tombstone for all those years.  And the cycle continues.

I really do encourage you to go see Gut Bucket Blues. It’s full of drama, a great story, and AWESOME singers.  And if you’re anything like me, you will want to know more when you leave!  You won’t be disappointed.  I’ll leave you with some videos of the legends this play is about.

Listen to those lyrics.  Such a sad reality.  I guess that’s why they call it the blues though. :-/

I feel her, but maybe it shoulda been someone else’s business. 😦

Happy Friday!

Feature Friday: Twist

Feature Friday: Twist

As Drake says, “Better late than never.”  So here’s my review of Twist at the Alliance Theatre since I’m New Orleans-bound in just a couple of hours.

 

Overall, the musical was worth seeing.  This “twist” on the story of Oliver Twist was full of great music and great storylines. A result of an interracial couple in New Orleans in the early 1900s that experiences the wrath of a mob, Twist is born in the orphanage that his mother drags herself to while dying after watching her fiance carried off.  Twist is ridiculed for being a “half-breed” by the other orphans as is sold to a funeral parlor director.  During his short stint with the funeral home, Twist learns that he has a great dancing talent and shows out during a second line before running away and joining a gang of lost boys who are selling libations during Prohibition for a guy who turns out to be the dance partner of Twist’s deceased father.  This guy also just happens to be booed up with the girl who delivered Twist and got a locket from his mother before she died, which the girl still had after all those years.

The story becomes twisted when the gang leader, who also owns a cafe in the Quarter, is approached by Twist’s uncle, who happened to be a member of the mob who killed Twist’s parents.  The uncle learns that as long as he has no proof that the baby of his sister is dead, he can’t get her part of their inheritance.  So he tries to buy Twist from the gang leader, who at first, despite his girlfriend’s pleas, heavily considers the agreement.  Thank goodness for the family attorney, who just so happened to love the work of Twist’s father and who has an affinity for protecting youth, who steps in and gives Twist a safe and happy home through all of this drama.

The two main issues that came up in the musical included of course, the lack of belonging for interracial people on either side of the spectrum and the need for adult influence and love in the lives of children.  Now, I had a slight problem with the interracial aspect of things.  In New Orleans as well as in other parts of the world, interracial people were seen as a notch up from black.  So although they were not accepted by white people, they were not necessarily “rejected” by blacks–many times, they chose not to be grouped in, instead going by names like quadroon and octoroon.  Interracial people in these days of New Orleans, many times had a choice between living among blacks or living in this created world of their own, where the women became concubines of Frenchmen who traveled back and forth between lands.  So it kinda disturbed me that in the musical, blacks and whites were banding together (getting along although they killed Twist’s parents for banding together) to ostracize Twist.  It was just a really weird dynamic.  For instance, in the orphanage scene, the black and white kids were in cahoots to make Twist’s life a living hell.  Now, this may have been a little more believable if  the white kids were sitting at a table of their own and the black kids at the other, and neither would give Twist a seat.  But for them all to be seeming to be loving each other across racial lines but hating Twist?  No sense.

Most importantly, though, the production did a good job of illustrating that children will accept love anywhere they can get it.  Even if it’s not under great circumstances.  It made me really consider what I think about whites adopting black children vs. blacks adopting them.  I mean, in the grand scheme of things, there are so many children out there that need love that I don’t really think about what race the adopting parents are–I just want them to be good parents who really just want to love kids.  Yes, there’s the issue of ensuring culture in a child, but I’d rather a child be placed with awesome white parents than sucky black parents (as would have been the case in the production–a single well-off white attorney who loves children and can actually tell Twist about his father’s legacy versus a black couple that is shacking up and sending kids out in the streets everyday to sell illegal liquor).  But the world isn’t so black and white.  There usually aren’t situations where a kid has a choice between the exact same family besides one being black and one being white.  So, I just say, those of you out there who really have the resources and the time and the love to adopt a child, go for it.  You won’t hear anything from me, regardless of your race or the child’s race.

Again, overall, the play was enjoyable.  Check out the Alliance Theatre to see what they have this season.  Reads and Reels will be seeing Nacirema Society mid-November, and I can’t wait!

Feature Friday: Asheville, NC

Feature Friday: Asheville, NC

I’m currently in Asheville, NC, to attend an economic development research conference.  It is absolutely beautiful here. Just what the doctor ordered. Getting to explore and experience various communities is one of my favorite parts of my job.  I get to see (and help guide) what communities are doing to make themselves better while keeping the culture that makes each community so special.

Yesterday, I went on a trolley tour of the city, and despite the wind aggravating my current throat ailment, I really enjoyed it.  Asheville is full of so much history and beautiful architecture.  Downtown reminded me of a little European city.  Our tour guide said this is a city for the wacky, wild, and whimsical.  Sounds like my kinda place, right? I ate at the snazzy Grove Park Inn, which had awesome views of the Asheville landscape.  In addition to great conversation with colleagues, the food was yummo.  I had a porkchop with “FROG” jam.  FROG = figs, raspberry, orange, and ginger and a delectable dulce de leche creme brulee.  (Can you say good sleep?)

Well, you know me–Ilove to share the wealth.  Here are some interesting facts about Asheville.

  • During the Great Depression, Asheville had the highest debt per capita of any city in the entire country.  On Nov 20, 1930, four banks closed their doors.  But instead of squiggling out of it, Asheville officials vowed to pay off every single dollar of debt.  They finally got out of debt in 1977.  As a result, they have a charming skyline–they weren’t able to build any buildings or tear any down.  So by ’77 they had a bunch of great historical buildings hat probably wouldn’t have been there otherwise. They took advantage and invested in the preservation of them, and now they’re reaping the benefits.
  • The French Broad River, the 3rd oldest river in the world, runs through Asheville.
  • Asheville’s Biltmore Estate is the country’s largest privately owned home.
  • Writer Thomas Wolfe was from Asheville. (And who knew the guy was 6’7″?)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda lived in Asheville.  Zelda was quite a character from what the tour guide told us.
  • Asheville has a history of being a health destination.  There’s lots of specialty and alternative medicine here.

If you need to get away, I highly recommend Asheville.  Bring your mom as I plan to do for a mother-daughter weekend, bring a boo for a romantic getaway, bring your artsy friends for an arts excursion, bring your outdoorsy friends for a mountain experience.  Lots to do here, and lots of stories to hear.  I’m sure I’ll be back soon.

So I’ll leave you with a song from an area native with a smooth, buttery voice. After “Closer I Get to You,” this is my fave of her songs.

Happy Friday, hunnies!