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Flip the Script Friday: Black Lives, Black Words – Part II

Picking up this book again and reading through some of the plays is like…scripts flipping themselves, with a vengeance.

There’s been so much anger these past few weeks, and it’s been more than just race. Everywhere from on our screens to in the streets, women are under attack. It’s the Women’s March of 2017 all over again…

…but this time, they’re fighting back.

Two plays from Black Lives, Black Words that I read this afternoon exemplify the struggles of both race and gender, and go about them in very different ways.

First, in, Officer Friendly by Rachel DuBose, we see an alarming image of racial discrimination and gender bias smashed up against one another like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a trash compacter. In eight stop-motion-like scenes, we see the full range of feeling from Nina, a black woman, in an encounter with white male “Officer Friendly,” as he is known, at a bus stop. In the blink of an eye, the scene shifts from active suspicion of Nina, to the officer evading all of Nina’s logical and appropriate questions, to an attempt to cajole a false confession out of Nina, to a “mind if I stand here with you?” which turns into a “my you’re pretty,” which turns into a “let me protect you.” That was a long sentence, but as Nina gets on the bus, it’s a giant sigh of relief. In Call and Response by Becca C. Browne, the characters are all female and African-American, but the pain and oppression is still present. A seven-year-old girl approaches Claire, who is sitting in Chicago’s Millennium Park, feeding the birds. Their conversation begins with the girl asking Claire why she is not attending the march. As Claire reveals the facts, that her sister Della was murdered by a police officer, the girl mysteriously echoes her words – as if she has experienced this exact same moment before. As Claire is just about to ask the girl her name, along comes Brianna, a protester, who is leading a call-and-response chant about Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a seven-year-old girl who was murdered. When Claire learns this, she is immediately inspired to join the march, along with the girl, who reveals that she is Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and asks Claire to say her name.

My Thoughts: Although these two plays probably don’t go together in anyway, it feels like they should. DuBose’s play takes a tense situation that happens all too often and all too quickly and slows it down, beat by beat, whereas Browne’s play is a notably calmer atmosphere which is more surreal, but escalates to a frenzied chant. Rhythm and cadence is something that we take for granted, but in these two short pieces, I can see how time can be played with and manipulated for the purposes of showing what’s really there.

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Flip the Script Friday: Black Lives, Black Words – Part I

I think this has been my longest blog hiatus since I began it back in 2013. July and August really came and went fast for me. On July 31, I submitted chapter 3 of my dissertation, and on August 1, I left for my 9th ATHE, in Boston. I spent four days catching up with friends, making new ones, and participating in the activities of the conference. I stayed in Boston a few days longer to visit with my grand-big Dan, and he took me to Maine for the very first time, where we saw the beaches of Ogunquit and Kennebunkport, and had dinner in Portland – now I’ve been to every state east of the Mississippi. Only seven more states to go – anyone up for a trip to North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, or Hawaii?

I’ve spent most of August trying to figure things out for the fall. I’m going to be teaching COMM ARTS 100 – Intro to Speech and Composition. I’m (hopefully) going to finish the final 2 chapters of my dissertation in the next 2 or 3 months. I’m also going to be considering my post-graduation options, probably going on the job market, and just figuring out life and stuff in general.

I have missed y’all and the blog, so what better time to start back up than the present, with everyone’s favorite, Flip the Script Friday – with a twist. Politics have been crazier than ever, especially this summer, and with no signs of it slowing down, I thought – what kinds of thoughts can I contribute, in my own little way? A friend of mine is starting a blog about playwrights of color. Rather than copy her idea, I’m modifying FTS (what a cool new acronym!) for the near future to focus on this fantastic book of short plays I’ve found in the library. The book is entitled Black Lives, Black Words and was published in 2017 by Oberon Books, with Reginald Edmund as editor. It is part of an international project to increase black visibility in the theatre, and includes some really poignant scripts. Rather than flip the scripts, I’m going to write up short synopses of some the pieces in the book and share some of my thoughts. I’ve only read the first few, but hopefully I’ll be able to fit the rest of the book among my regular, non-research reading and write more. And now, here is the first of the plays from the book I’ll be reviewing:

#Matter by Idris Goodwin

Synopsis: A conversation on race emerges over Facebook between acquaintances Kim (black) and Cole (white). In response to Kim’s post of “a hashtag and three words,” Cole posts “a hashtag and three words.” The conversation becomes more and more explosive and acrimonious, from scientific to personal, with an unexpectedly sad ending.

My Thoughts: Goodwin really lays it all out there, and concisely summarizes both sides of an argument in a way that comes off as individual and thoughtful rather than preachy and trite. Both Kim and Cole feel victimized by prejudice AND guilty of it at the same time, for different reasons. I feel like it’s like a high-five where the hands just completely miss each other. Both characters speak valid points – sometimes they listen, but they do a lot of talking past each other. What’s really intriguing, though, is the playwright’s continual return to the phrase “perfect star,” – as if that’s a third race.