When the play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” premiered in 1976, playwright and poet Ntozake Shange, a self-proclaimed black feminist, couldn’t have foreseen the #MeToo movement. But 42 years later, Art Gilliard sees something in common between the two eras.
“She was going through that creative period in the 1970s when women were beginning to feel free to express themselves,” Gilliard said. “The #MeToo movement right now is another sort of evolution in that same kind of energy.”
The difference between the two eras, he said, is that these topics had more shock value back then. Now, the play simply conveys what women go through. "For Colored Girls" is a series of poems set to music describing the racism and sexism experienced by seven women.
“(Shange) acknowledges the pain,” Gilliard said. “She acknowledges the anger, she acknowledges the hurt. But she also acknowledges the fact that these women went on with their lives.”
Gilliard and his theater company Art Forms & Theatre Concepts is presenting the play at Footlight Players Theatre during Piccolo Spoleto Festival.
When Gilliard decided to produce this play, he knew he needed powerful performances to do the play justice.
“I wanted (the actors) to be genuine, deeply into that raw emotion,” Gilliard said. “If you didn’t dig deep in the emotional aspect of it, then you would not be telling the true intent of what the author intended.”
Trinvella McKinnon, who plays the Lady in Red, said she found passion, danger and rage within her character during the process, and these feelings and themes could be applied to every walk of life.
“Even though it was written by an African-American woman, and some of the themes apply to the African-American culture, I think it’s universal,” McKinnon said. “Women of every ethnicity can sit in that audience and feel some type of connection to the stories that she shared.”
The play’s set is simple, with the focus on seven cubes on stage. The intent of the play, Gilliard said, is to watch these seven women from various backgrounds get together to talk about their experiences.
The show allows the audience in on the conversation. It even gives men a chance to listen to what women gossip about, McKinnon said. But what really strikes her is the inspiring message the play gives women.
“What I love about the play is that, although these women had these experiences that were traumatizing, by the end of the play they find something wonderful," McKinnon said. "They triumph. They were able to go through these experiences and still pick their heads up.”
J.R. Pierce is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University.