"for colored girls" — Ntozake Shange’s Landmark Choreopoem Celebrates the Stories of Black Women
Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance presents Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf,” a spiritual—and deeply personal—celebration of black womanhood, directed by Sharrell D. Luckett.
By: Sarah Jae Leiber and Scott Snyder Tuesday, April 10, 2018 08:00 AM
“Black people consider the piece a rite of passage for black actresses,” Luckett says. “There’s a sense that you’re not in the club until you do ‘for colored girls…’ You have to do ‘for colored girls…’ to feel like you’ve arrived.”
“for colored girls…,” playing in the Baker Theatre April 26-28, has been breaking barriers since its 1976 Broadway curtain—it was only the second Broadway production ever written by a black woman, following Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” in 1959.
“Shange’s work foregrounds the joys of being a Black woman, and even the Me Too movement in one piece,” Luckett says. “She takes us through a journey of love and happiness, even while she manages to address the abuse that Black women have experienced at the hands of racial oppressors, and even from folks in their own circles. Black women have been saying this for a long time. It’s not new.
"That’s why it’s no surprise that the Me Too movement was started by a Black woman. We’ve been screaming this for decades. And Shange has been talking in the genealogy of the Me Too movement, the Time’s Up movement, for that long.”
Performed entirely by women, “for colored girls…” offers a narrative of self-discovery, coming-of-age stories, self-love and a familial bond between Black women who share both joyous and painful experiences. The play is a choreopoem—a term Shange herself invented for this piece, which combines heightened poetic language, movement, music and theatre.
“A lot of people will ask—is this musical theatre? And it’s not,” Luckett says. “It’s a culturally Black piece, because we don’t separate it. We don’t separate dance from acting, from song. It’s all together.”
The show stars 10 women who share poetic narratives of Black girlhood and womanhood—and, in the process, share something of themselves as well. For many, this is the first time performing in a cast consisting entirely of Black women.
“I love knowing that I am going into a room full of women who understand me in particular ways,” says Bree Ogaldez ’18, a senior cast member marking the end of her Muhlenberg theater career. “I’m lucky to have had the unique chance to work with a cast full of Black women, and I learn so much from my cast mates every day.”
“This is, essentially, the first time in my performance experience at Muhlenberg where I have been asked to play myself,” says Cameron Silliman ’18, another senior cast member. “This show has allowed me to explore elements of myself and Black women in general. Being able to share those discoveries and share a very personal story is very fulfilling.”
Luckett says the abstract, intimate nature of the show’s poetry easily lends itself to integrating movement and music.
“We have Rahbi creating and playing music for us. He’s an underground superstar,” Luckett says. “He’s opened for Maroon 5, Janelle Monáe, SZA, Erykah Badu. We are catching him just before he becomes super-famous. Between him and Randall, the cast has gotten to work with professionals who are truly doing it.”
Muhlenberg faculty member Randall Anthony Smith provides the choreography.
“As a choreographer, I can say this has been the most uplifting, rejuvenating and experiential process I’ve been a part of in a long time,” Smith says. “I am who I am because of the female body, and I stand in the arenas I inhabit because the Black women before me moved mountains, stirred oceans and created life with love. Just being able to be in the presence of so many beautiful Black women is a gift. It’s humbling.”
Luckett says it has meant a lot to her to work with this cast. This is a unique experience at a predominantly white institution like Muhlenberg, she says.
“This particular community should understand that when we advocate for diversity—that doesn’t mean that you lose your culture,” she says. “When you include me, that doesn’t mean I assimilate and vice versa. It means we work together.”
“‘for colored girls…’ allows us to tell the perfect amount of our story to a community who has never had to wonder what it means to be young and Black in a predominately white-centered culture,” says cast member Gabrielle Hines ’18. “The piece was written long before we were born, but the same ideals and struggles are more than relevant now.”
“We have a strong Black female community here,” Smith says. “I hope ‘for colored girls…’ reminds the audience that there’s more than one story present within Black communities—that the story you see is not the only story that is available.”
“I believe the play is universal and also definitely for Black women. It’s Black and universal at the same time,” Luckett says. “It’s a classic, I can tell you that.”
“for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf” plays April 26-28. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Regular admission tickets are $15. Tickets for youth and LVAIC students and staff are $8.
Shirlene Holmes will offer a response and discussion of the play following the performance on Friday, April 27. Holmes is an award-winning playwright and scholar and a professor at Georgia State University. Her play “Since ’76,” a followup to “for colored girls…,” will also be presented in a staged reading Friday at 2:30 p.m.
The production addresses themes of a sensitive nature and is appropriate for audiences ages 14 and up.
Tickets can be purchased online at muhlenberg.edu/theatre or by phone at 484-664-3333. Performances are in the Baker Theatre in Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 West Chew St., Allentown.
Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theater program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg is a highly selective, private, four-year residential, liberal arts college located in Allentown, Pa., approximately 90 miles west of New York City. With an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences as well as selected pre-professional programs, including accounting, business, education and public health. A member of the Centennial Conference, Muhlenberg competes in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.