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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Broke-ology

Broke-ology

Wednesday night, I took a MUCH needed break from working long days (and nights) and went to see the True Colors Theatre production Broke-ology with my neighbors.

I didn’t really know what to expect from the title, but the play definitely surpassed my expectations.  Not focused just on the fact that the family was poor and how some things in life are just more important than how much money and possessions you have, this play explored many issues that hit close to home: how to take care of an illness-stricken family member, the responsibility of being close to home versus being limitless in chasing dreams, family planning, and even how people deal with death.

Since I want you to go see it (it’s at Southwest Arts Center until Sunday), I won’t get down into the details of the plot (except where it relates to my impending ramblings).  Suffice it to say that despite my sleep deprivation this week, I didn’t fall asleep for a second!

I love when art causes me to slow down and self-reflect, which definitely happened Wednesday night. One of the characters went home to Kansas City, Kansas after receiving his graduate degree from UConn.  His brother never left home, and although he works at a wings spot, he has been instrumental in helping to make sure their father, who is suffering from MS, is okay.  The younger brother, the UConn graduate, has no idea just how difficult it has been for the family and is extremely torn about staying at home and helping out but knowing he will likely get “stuck” or moving back to Connecticut after a summer position with the EPA and following his desire to teach and do environmental research with his academic mentor. Can you say para-llel? I’ve often felt the same way–except not as torn just because I go home semi-regularly since I can drive there. I’ve considered moving back home sooner than later (I at least want a second home there), especially when I see how stressed my mom gets trying to help the rest of my family.  Or even when I think of every day things that I could do if I were there that I never have time to do during my visits, like playing spades with my family like the characters were playing dominoes or learning crocheting techniques from my grandma for more than an hour or two here and there. I love being at home, and I love my family more than anything. But I’ve always been the explorer. The adventurer. I’m not quite ready to lay my roots down there. As far as my career is concerned, I could make some small strides at home, but I’m really flourishing here in Atlanta and I’m not ready for a slight career change, a veer on the road if you will.  I could work for organizations who are my clients currently, but I like being the consultant, and I love working in different communities, seeing the different dynamics.  But I always have my family in the back of my mind. Wondering if I’m being selfish. But I know in the grand scheme, I’m not because I give back and help out in my own way. But is it enough?

I got a little sentimental, though, when the older brother who has been in Kansas City the whole while told his younger brother that if he moves, he will miss all the milestones of his baby that’s on the way.  I immediately thought of my nieces and nephews, who I can’t be as close to as their aunts and uncles that are in town. I write letters, keep up with them on Facebook, spend time with them when I go home, but I’m definitely not doing nearly as much or being as influential in their lives as I would if I lived there. But on the other hand, I think back to my own aunt Vernita. She was an explorer like I am. She lived in DC until she was murdered when I was in the 9th grade. I remember vividly being so excited to see her and spend time with her when she would visit.  Although she lived so far away, I didn’t care as a child.  I can still remember her smell and her smile, even her laugh, and I would just bask in her presence. I still think about her from time to time, and it hurt me to the core when she was taken from us. I never begrudged her being away–in fact, it inspired me. My mom has told me countless times over the years that I remind her of Vernita. And that makes me feel close to her, even though I didn’t spend as much time with her as some of my other aunts and uncles.

I would keep going, but this post is getting a little long. And truthfully, I’m getting a little misty thinking about my aunt.  So… I’ll leave you with this: Cherish your family, no matter where they are. And seek to be a part of solutions, not problems.  Happy Friday, people!

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!

Jitney

Jitney

This afternoon, a friend of mine and I went to the Alliance Theatre and enjoyed a great production written by the great August Wilson called Jitney.

Set in 1977 in a jitney stop (car service) in Pittsburgh, this production explored a range of topics still relevant to the black community, including the disconnect between generations, alcoholism, the role of men in households and families, love and forgiveness, the importance of communication between romantic partners, the effects of war on young soldiers, the lack of support for small businesses in some cities, and the list goes on.  This would have made for a great Reads and Reels discussion!

In addition to the  great music played between scenes (classics like Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”), I really enjoyed the light banter and surefire black lingo infused into the script. The characters were real to me because I could definitely hear my daddy talking like these guys were. Although the plot was very heavy overall, the production made good use of comic relief.

It made me smile to see so many black folk at the theatre, supporting the arts. If you haven’t seen it, make sure to put this on your list of things to do this month. Jitney runs through June 27.