A writer’s debut of one-act plays, continuing his revival

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Playwright and filmmaker Kathleen Collins told a group of film students in 1984, “Nobody is going to call my life a legend.” Howard University. “No one will deny me the right to explore my own experiences of life as normal experiences.”

Collins’s urge to portray the normality of the lives of African American women, rather than reproducing Hollywood stories that distort or reproduce mythology, is resonating with a new generation of Black female artists who have Recently discovered Collins and his work. Part of what makes Collins’s writing so appealing is her focus on complex internal conflicts and outward journeys, which Elizabeth Alexander calls those “bohemian black women” who often work as artists and academics, and a strong intellectual life. Keep it. Because she provides them with such care and provides them with such vulnerability, their characters have enhanced insight and know that they are both free and isolated from their knowledge of how the other sees them. Watch and stereotype them.

Such rich psychological images of black women have been originally drawn Afrophemonomy, A group of black female theater artists for Collins’ plays. In addition to molding Howard University’s speech into a monologue, they are also performing “Begin the Beguine”, a quartet of Collins’ one-acts that has never been produced before.

Over the past two weekends, under an event called “Work the Roots”, Afrophemonomy performed the title drama “Begin the Beguin” about actress Ruby D and her son, blues guitarist Guy Davis, as well as “The Healing” . “The Reading” and “Remembrance” (from a lawn in Harlem to a park in Bedford-Stuyvesant) at various locations in New York City. On Saturday, May 29, they will premiere a mixed-media installation called “Gold Flavor”, a response to “The Essentials Not”, a theatrical work by Aisa Davis, one of the group’s members. The piece will be available for viewing until June 27 at the performance space at the Keith Harring Theater in New York.

Collins’ plays are part of a continuing revival of her works following her death in 1988 at the age of 46 from breast cancer. Largely due to his daughter Nina Lorez Collins’ commitment to preserving her mother’s legacy, we are now able to access Collins’s ambitions and gifts of the collection, including His 1982 film theatrical release in 2015, “losing ground”; Publication of his short story collection “What happened to interracial love?” In 2016; And, in 2019, the arrival of “Notes from the diary of a black woman, “A mix of his short stories, plays, diary entries and film scripts.

Davis, an actress and playwright who was recently seen in HBO’s “Mayor of Easttown”, first became acquainted with Collins’ writing when she was scheduled to do a public reading of Collins’s short stories at the Brooklyn Public Library in 2017 where did it go. But, now she realizes, Collins has been with her for a very long time. “She is a literary precursor to me who has been under my nose at the moment,” Davis said. “When Nina first gave me these plays, I was like ‘Kathleen Collins, Kathleen Collins, Kathleen Collins’, and then I looked at my bookshelf and found the ‘9 Play by Black Woman’, a 1980s Was a compilation, and his’The brothers‘ there. This is his only play that was ever made, [a production of the Women’s Project, now WP Theater] At the American Place Theater. “

Once she read Collins’s other plays, she immediately shared them with her friends and other black female theater artists with whom she often collaborated most: at dinner, on museum visits, and on the beach. But, through texts, together after watching the play, and, over the past year, on Zoom. By 2019, Collins’ casual interest in his plays turned him into a more concrete idea of ​​staging and sharing with the wider public.

“In many ways, it was an attempt to take the model of our friendship and then apply it to the conditions under which we cooperate,” Davis said.

Director Lilliana Blaine-Cruz (‘Mary’s Seacole’) said that knowing about Collins’ plays enabled her to take various risks. For the project, he has deliberately turned Collins’ “The Reading” into a 30-minute drama that approximates our conversation about racial microaggressions today. Set in the waiting room of a black psychic, there is a tense conversation between Marguerite (Cara Young), a black fashion designer, and Helen (Amelia Workman), a white romance novelist. As Helen tries to claim her authority, Marguerite pushes back, and eventually denies Helen the opportunity to take up the place in which she feels obliged to live as a white woman.

“For me, celebrating and exploring collectively around the work of Kathleen Collins is another way of seeing each other before we know how to see each other in existence and collectivity,” she said. “That, for me, is really moving forward because I was like, ‘Oh, this is someone I should have known.'” He said, “Now I have to search, and I don’t have to search alone . “

Apart from the moving performances of individual actors, these plays, which were not open to review for critics, were made even more attractive due to casting and staging. Collins wrote “The Healing” and “The Reading” with white characters, but because aprofemonomy was inserted from within his group, he provided a space in which black actresses were always front and center. This gesture was further intensified by the intemacy of their set. At the end of “The Reading”, the audience was led by actress Jennifer Harrison Newman to dance with the cast, an invitation that replaced a wall of luminous installations and graffiti, which wrote “Last night, I dreamed that I danced in the image of “God” (a line from another Collins in the quartet) celebrating the creativity of black women at a communal party.

By inviting us into these gentle moments in which Collins’s Black female characters pull back their layers, the performances themselves take both the fictional characters and this real-life Black cast far beyond the strict racial and gender categories that surround them and us Huh.

“These are stories about the inner lives of black women,” Nina Lorez Collins told me. “One of the reasons I love” Begin the Begin “is that it’s about race, but it’s also not. It’s really about the inner life of this artist, this young woman. And I don’t think That we’ve seen something like this. ”

As avant-garde as the characters of Collins in their time, they remain singular today, giving us the rare social insight to let us have their unique moment of slowly returning to each other in public spaces How to navigate, and ultimately, live in a personal performance In the preface to “Notes from a Black Woman’s Diary”, fiction writer Danielle Evans called Collins “the master of those moments” when the interior becomes exterior, when All pretenses go away.

This blurring between our internal selves and the identities offered back to black women was at the heart of the “remembrance” of the Afrophemonomy, which was called “a kind of personal session”. Under the direction of Jackie Sibley’s Drury (‘Fairview’) and Davis as The Woman and Kaneza Schaal as Collins speaking to Howard’s students, it becomes a conversation between two black women, while each Giving their own monologue – one taking place in a bathroom, the other in a lecture – eventually, sometimes, dissolving into each other. Whenever they demand the audience to see black women in public with the same clarity as we see ourselves in private.

But such revelations and reverberations of gazes will also be important to large areas of the American theater community that are still struggling with debates about inclusion, equity and white gatekeepers as it seeks to participate in the pitfalls of racism, and treatment. Wants to institutionalize what Collins offers for his black characters and the black female theater artists who embody them.

After two weeks of performances, and spending a few years studying Collins, Afrophemonomy decided to close Davis’ musical theater piece “The Essentials Not” to the group’s installation “Gold Taste” and to the Harlem Renaissance. The authors re-imagined the very first moment of WEB. Du Bois, Jessie Fawcett and Nella Larsen debated racial representation in their era. It begins with the perpetually vexing question, “Can you be black and not perform?”

Extending Collins’s legacy to Davis, Afrophemonomy member Kanza Shal said, “Isa is [also] Sits on a troop of plays written by him. And it is up to us to see that our own daughters are not the first to do that job. “She continued,” It is necessary to address Davis and Collins together. The intellectual harmony that Jesus has made with his forefathers is amazing, and is another extension of this fabric. “


The Essential Knot: Gold Test Installation

May 29 – June 27 Performance Space in New York, 150 First Avenue; PerformanceSponsNew York.org.



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