One of our community engagement elements involves a partnership with Laman Library. Laman's Special Projects Coordinator, Paula Morrell, and I developed the partnership as a series of workshops--2 reading circles and 1 writing/visual art workshop. PTC English instructor Jerrica Ryan facilitated the reading circle in which participants discussed and analyzed the work. PTC Visual Art Instructor Kimberly Kwee and Paula Morrell co-facilitated the writing/visual art workshop. Using the play as inspiration, participants merged collages and writing to create artworks which will be displayed as a front of house exhibit during the performances at Mosaic Templars. Thank you Jerrica, Paula, Kim, and everyone at Laman for helping us bring more community members into our artistic process!
UALR provided our cast and crew with the opportunity to meet *For Colored Girls* playwright Ntzoke Shange on Thursday night. As part of their Black History Month celebrations, UALR invited Shange down for a reading and book signing. Shange read several selections from *For Colored Girls* and her other works. It was exciting for me to see our actors with her because some of our cast members connect so deeply with her work. One of our ladies slipped out with her on a smoke break to sneak a hug and a picture. Several of our ladies hugged her with the deep gratitude that only a source of profound inspiration deserves. It was indeed a special night that reinforced our desire to honor Shange's beautiful words.
Over spring break, I will facilitate a cool camp for 3rd-6th graders at Trike Theatre in Bentonville, AR. We will create a play based on crazy tabloid headlines.
Here's the link:
It began with a conversation at Community Bakery. I met with local actress Verda Davenport-Booher to get her interested in one of my projects. Instead, I left interested in one of her projects. At the time, it was just a seed. She wanted to do something with Ntzoke Shange's *For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf* to coincide with Tyler Perry's film release. She wanted to introduce young women to the beauty of the original. I hadn't read the play, but it sounded like a worthwhile project to me. "I'm in," I told her.
I read it and felt like someone hit me in the gut. This is a tough play, and I didn't immediately see the beauty in it. I read it again and again. My mind began to open to the possibilities....and to the message of hope at the heart of this play. Verda and I met to read and discuss the play together. We still didn't know what shape this project would take.
Then Sheila Glasscock at Pulaski Tech asked me if I wanted to direct this spring. I thought of our student body--the majority of which is African-American female. I thought of the possibilities for discussion this play would provide. I talked to Verda, and we said "Yes."
We have rehearsed for almost a month now with a cast gathered from our student body as well as the Little Rock/North Little Rock community. We have a partnership with Laman Library in North Little Rock to facilitate a series of community workshops. At the first two, participants will read and discuss the play. At the final workshop, participants will create a collage and writing inspired by the play. We will exhibit their finished work in our performance space. And we have a partnership with Mosaic Templars to use their beautiful performance space for free. In addition to those community engagement endeavors:
-many of the PTC English instructors are including *For Colored Girls* in their curriculum
-the PTC Committee for Community Diversity will host an on-campus discussion panel the week after the play
-the PTC Network for Student Success will have a special night to attend the play and host a "Real Talk" in which they will watch and discuss scenes from the film
-young women from the LRSD Accelerated Learning Center will create living statues of the characters for the pre-show
-young spoken word poets will write poems based on the young women's living statues to be displayed next to the women
-I will lead on-campus workshops in which students create mini-choreopoems.
-We will present selections at PTC's Poetry Night.
So THIS is what consumes my thoughts at the moment. I can't wait to see how we bring this piece to life.
NOTE: Image created by Amy Bonds and is current proof of publicity design--NOT final.
About the Author: April Gentry-Sutterfield is a director, deviser, educator, and mom who uses theatre as a tool for social justice, education, and community engagement.