‘For colored girls’ moves audiences to find their own rainbows
The lights shone down warmly on the rustic wooden stage, framed by patchwork tatters of fabric fluttering as the audience shuffled into their seats. Lights dimmed, voices hushed and we all sat at the edge of our seats in anticipation. Then, a simple bass line began, followed by the march of seven women wearing different colors. They trudged along in a circle, stoic and proud, until they stopped, took each other’s hands and breathed together to prepare for what would come ahead.
The play had begun, and would continue to keep me on an emotional rollercoaster where I would not know what was coming next or even have time to process what had come before. I would have to feel—in the moment—in an incredibly powerful way. While told within a certain time and place with music and other references, the story remains timeless, with something for every audience member to find within the narratives and within themselves.
“for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,” also called “For Colored Girls”, is a choreopoem written by Ntozake Shange. It premiered in 1976 and tells the story of seven African-American women, identified by separate colors of the rainbow, who struggle with sexism, racism, poverty, mental illness and more. They suffer unspeakable horrors, brave heartbreak and loss and wrestle with their own identities in their communities and the wider world.
Yet it is also the story of hope, self-love and sisterhood that can be found in the depths of despair. Shange once said of her work, “‘For Colored Girls still is a women’s trip, and the connection we can make through it, with each other and for each other, is to empower us all.” The women on stage constantly shared in each other’s stories, interacting with and reenacting them alongside the performer who spoke the narrative into being.
The Performing Art Department’s production, performed in the A.E Hotchner Studio Theatre, was sold out several days in advance. The night I went to see the production, there was a considerable waitlist to get in. I found it no surprise this performance was in such high demand. It was so utterly unique, so masterfully produced and so beautifully performed that if I could have gotten tickets for every performance I certainly would have. This was a story that could not be exhausted of emotionality and wonder.
The audience followed the women throughout trials and tribulations, from their worst nightmares to their greatest hopes. They heard their dreams, visions, cries and calls to action. They laughed and cried with these women, and felt as if they knew them like sisters even though they didn’t know their names. As the Ladies in Green, Orange, Blue, Red, Yellow, Purple and Brown lifted their voices and called that “[they had] found God in themselves and [that they] loved her,”
I felt like calling with them. The final lines, the same as some of the first spoken, brought us back to where we had started but we were not the same. Beautiful, poignant, heart wrenching, tragic and deeply moving, these timeless stories will stay with us for ages.