The Road to Black Anthology: Installment 2

Katie Bry | Digital Contributor

Black Anthology, a Washington University production written, choreographed, produced and directed entirely by undergraduate students is celebrating its 30th year of production in 2019. The show will run Feb. 1 and 2. Up until then, Student Life will be covering the lead-up to the show in a new series, “The Road to Black Anthology.” We started by interviewing some of the show’s most involved members, which you can find here.

Today, we present one of the group’s most recent programming efforts, a film screening.

Students gathered casually in the large auditorium, chatting and laughing amongst each other as the movie was set up. When the lights dimmed and the clips from the movie began to play, the room fell silent as the audience was captivated by Ntozake Shange’s lyrical words in the television adaptation of the play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.”

Black Anthology hosted the viewing of this movie as an “Ode to Ntozake Shange” this past Thursday, Nov. 29 in McMillan Hall. Junior Sherece Laine and sophomore Sophia Kamanzi, the Black Anthology public relations chairs, emphasized that Black Anthology is not just the performance in February, but also the smaller events, such as this one, leading up to it. Such gatherings remind the larger student body of Black Anthology’s prominent presence on campus and get them excited for the show.

Laine and Kamanzi wanted to host an event that would showcase a form of visual art. As an executive board they decided to show “For Colored Girls.”

“This was one of the movies that really resonated with all of us,” Laine shared. “Not only for its literary magnitude and what it has done in the Black community, but also with the death of Shange happening so recently we thought it would be a good way to show both her works and the way it relates to Black Anthology.”

Shange, a playwright and poet who grew up in St. Louis, died Oct. 27, 2018. She wrote the play “For Colored Girls”, which debuted in 1976. The play follows eight women who each play a different color in the rainbow, and the production is comprised of a collection of poems written by Shange. At the event on Thursday some clips were shown to highlight some pieces this included “No Assistance,” the story of a woman ending her relationship due to unreciprocated effort and “Toussaint,” about a young Black girl in the segregated neighborhoods of St. Louis exploring books in the library which offered stories about white people, until she came across a book about Toussaint Louverture, a Black french man.

Shange also incorporated music and dance into the production. Her unique style coined the term “choreopoem,” a now widely used tool to powerfully share emotion and beauty with its audience. Black Anthology also incorporates of these elements into its production.

One of the biggest purposes of Black Anthology is to give a voice to the stories we share,” Kamanzi said. “I think our show incorporating music and poetry and dance just reflects the choreopoems and using that medium to tell different stories. With the same idea of offering a voice and using visual art to do it.”

One reason Kamanzi so respects “For Colored Girls” is the production’s ability to accurately portray Black women.

“It is not very often that Black women can accurately see themselves portrayed in the media without being attached to a stereotype, a token or the punchline,” Kamanzi said. “So I think seeing this being portrayed also by all Black women is just really powerful.”

Kamanzi believes that in Black Anthology, students are empowered to accurately represent their stories. She emphasized that although the Black Anthology team represents a wide diversity of interests, sexual orientations and socioeconomic standing. This diversity contribute to the richness of the stories told.

“Having a diverse exec board rings true that Blackness is not a monolith and we come from so many different walks of life,” Laine added. “So much uniqueness makes up Black people, such that having a diverse exec board would be the only way that that would be shown.”

After about half of the clips of the movie were shown, the lights were brought back up. Ron Himes, founder of the Saint Louis Black Repertory Company and faculty member of the Performing Arts Department at Washington University spoke about the production. The Black Rep, the largest African-American theater company in the nation, is also Black Anthology’s 2019 philanthropy organization. Himes knew Shange personally and has produced “For Colored Girls” many times. Himes noted that for each production he has put on a new generation can see it and connect with the material.

“I think that the fact that I can hear her works and still resonant with them and see the people around me resonate with them just shows how timeless her writing is,” Kamanzi said. “Even though we have come so far as a community there is still so much to be done and still things that Black women are feeling that we have felt in the past.

Himes also spoke to the importance of this piece when performed in St. Louis specifically. He explained that with so many references to St. Louis landmarks “For Colored Girls” feels more personal and has a bigger impact on St. Louis audiences.

“For instance I am from St. Louis and I went to Soldan High School and the library that [Shange] is talking about in ‘Toussaint’ is right there on union. And the library is still there and still open,” Himes shared with the students in the auditorium. “So a lot of those references to St. Louis audiences also resonate in a way that when people see it other places it just sounds like random streets and names.”

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