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Women Out Loud
by Anthony Chase
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf at Ujima
Ntozake Shange’s play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, was a phenomenon of the late 1970s. Dubbed a “choreopoem,” it presented the contemporary struggles and triumphs of African-American women in 20 poetic episodes, and was performed on Broadway and around the country. In Buffalo, Ujima Theater Company presented the piece to tremendous acclaim in a production directed by the legendary Warren Enters, the Tony Award winning director who headed the Buffalo State theater program and had directed more Studio Arena Theatre productions than any other person.
Ujima founder Lorna C. Hill was in that fondly remembered production and now has the opportunity to revisit the piece for a whole new generation.
“When I first started working on this production,” says Hill, “I looked upon it as a classic and the symbol of an era—a kind of homage to my generation. I wondered if this particular play, so much a product of its time, would speak to young women at all. I received a quick education. The young women in my cast told me, ‘No. We still think about these issues and experience these things in the same way.’”
Hill notes that this realization is both depressing and inspiring.
“I had thought that we would have some of these issues resolved by now!” she laments. “We have made progress, certainly. But the issues are by no means resolved. No, we don’t have full employment. No, we don’t have peace, or racial equality, or environmental protection. Yes, there is still violence against women, and opposition to reproductive rights.
“On the one hand, that disappoints me, but I tell myself there have been improvements, and one huge change I see is that when we first did For Colored Girls…, it was the first time many of these things had been said out loud. Today, young women are accustomed to speaking out loud.
“That is a major difference between these young women and my generation. I am now 60 years old, and the youngest woman in our cast is 20. I don’t really think about the issues that concern a 20-year-old woman any more. I am fascinated by the way in which this play that spoke to me so powerfully in the 1970s still resonates with today’s young women.”
That resonance extends beyond the members of the Ujima Theater Company.
“The response has been immediate and tremendous,” says Hill. “Audience members have returned to see the play again and have brought friends with them.”
The women in the ensemble of the play are nameless. Each is designated only by a color: the Lady in Purple; the Lady in Yellow, and so on.
“When we did the play with Warren,” recalls Hill, “I was The Lady in Red [the woman who tells a story of domestic violence]. Now my own daughter is playing the Lady in Green.”
Ujima is contemplating a reunion of some of the original “Colored Girls” from the Warren Enters production. It will be a meeting of the generations.
“Many people recall For Colored Girls… as a play about race,” notes Hill. “But it isn’t. The emphasis is on the experience of these women as women. The oppressor in these poems is men. The issue in the play was never race. It is the experience of African-American women being women.”
Something else that has stayed the same over the years is the climate at Ujima.
“We’re still struggling to hang on,” admits Hill. “We have no paid staff and have not had for a long time. It makes it difficult to transact certain kinds of business. King Collins said no one was hurt by his cuts,” she adds, referring to the former Erie County Executive Chris Collins, “but we were planning to close.”
The former county executive cut most cultural organizations funding entirely, regardless of the audiences they served; many in the arts community viewed him as a despot and a philistine. “We had mapped out our strategy and process for closing the doors. At least, now, we’re back on track to keep going, but we still face the same old facilities issues.”
What keeps Ujima going?
“The same thing as always,” says Hill. “People! We keep going thanks to the stubborn drive of individuals. It’s the same thing that got us started. And loyal audiences! The audience has been hit hard too, but they continue to support us. They always have.”
For Colored Girls… features Shanntina Moore, Kunjane Lyons-Latimer, Fredrica Germany, Dayatra Hassan, Aitina Fareed, Zoë Scruggs, Saron Ephraim, and India Moss. The production continues through March 11 at Theaterloft, 545 Elmwood Avenue. Call 883-0380 for ticket reservations.
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