Performance Space New York, along with co-production partner New Georges, has announced details regarding AFROFEMONOMY // WORK THE ROOTS, a group activation of Black female theater artists celebrating each other. Since March 2021, employees within AFROFEMONOMY-including Lileana Blain CruzCharlotte Brathwaite, Eisa Davis, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Deadria Harrington, Aisha Jordan, Joy Lee, April Mathis, Jennifer Harrison new man, Okwui OkpokwasiliStacey Karen Robinsonand Kaneza Schaal-came together in informal in-person and remote meetings to explore Kathleen Collins‘ 1984 unproduced one-act quartet Begin the Biguine and Eisa Davis‘The Essentialisn’t musical performance work. Questions of societal pressures on the physical and mental health of black women resonate in both works as well as concurrent expectations of performance – issues the group addresses through its own model of care and release. In a snapshot of this ongoing, generative process, AFROFEMONOMY will join a global reverberation this spring of Kathleen Collins‘ texts in responsive visions – with performance, music, film, radio – in New York and Oakland, California, with works made in Norway and Senegal, and online.
The end Kathleen Collinswriter, director and visionary teacher with a prodigious output of films, plays, screenplays, novels and short stories, died of breast cancer at the age of 46. Her premature death, like that of other black writers such as Audre Lorde and June Jordan, raises the question of the threatened health of black women. Eisa Davis met Collins’ daughter, Nina – who secured her mother’s legacy for generations to come by securing distribution for Collins’ groundbreaking feature, Losing Ground, and editing and publishing two books of Collins’ writing – when Davis performed excerpts from The Collins Short Stories. As they pondered how to bring Begin The Beguine to life, Davis hosted a reading through The New Black Fest at the Lark, then pitched the project to the artists at AFROFEMONOMY.
Start beguine schedule information
Begin the Beguine brings together four one-acts, each of which will be presented outdoors by AFROFEMONOMY collaborators in different New York locations, as well as in Oakland by Oakland Theater Project, in a synchronized world premiere.
The first, Remembrance (part of Downtown Live, presented by Downtown Alliance in association with En Garde Arts and The Tank), features performances by Eisa Davis and Kaneza Schaalwith Jackie Sibblies Drury as a project management consultant. It will take place in an arcade adjacent to the Stone Street Historic District (85 Broad Street) in Manhattan on May 16 at 6:30 p.m., May 22 at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. & May 23 at 4 p.m. (tickets available at https://ci.ovationtix.com/35658/production/1046061).
The reading will come to life in the courtyard of 122CC, the building housing the performance space, on May 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 2:30 p.m. and 3:45 p.m., with a live offer created by Lileana Blain Cruz, Amelie Worker, Kara Young, Green beans and Jennifer Harrison Newman (tickets available at www.performancespacenewyork.org/shows/work-the-roots).
On a bench in Central Park in Harlem, April Mathis and Stacey Karen Robinson will share Begin the Beguine, an offering created with Charlotte Brathwaite, on May 15 at 5 p.m. and May 16 at 2 p.m. And Joy Lee, Kaneza Schaal and Jackie Sibblies Drury will offer The Healing in a park in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Follow @Afrofemononomy on Instagram for more on these performance offerings.
All New York performance offerings are free, with donations collected for the black women’s health imperative. And in California, the Oakland Theater Project will feature the entire series in one act (co-directed by Dawn L Troop. and Michael Socrates Moran) together in an outdoor theatrical production, from May 15 to July 3.
Accompanying Facilities Information Schedule
“Last night I dreamed that I was dancing in the image of God.”
Created by Lileana Blain Cruz
A dance, rest and sustenance space designed for and in appreciation of black women
Dates: May 15, 16, 22, 23
Visits: 12 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. & 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Location: Courtyard at 122CC, 150 First Avenue, New York, NY
The Essential is not: the taste of gold
Created by Eisa Davis with the artists of Afrofemononomy
Dates: May 29 – June 27
Visits: Thursday to Sunday | 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.
*Thursday nights (3 p.m. – 9 p.m.): June 10, 17 and 24
Location: Keith Haring Theater, Fourth Floor, Performance Space New York, 150 First Avenue, New York, NY
Ticket information: www.performancespacenewyork.org/shows/work-the-roots
About Begin the Beguine and The Essentialisn’t
Through Collins’ incisive, vulnerable and disturbing works, black women, many of whom are artists, challenge the demanding and debilitating roles that society expects of them. As Vinson Cunningham wrote in The New Yorker, “Collins was, above all, an artist and interpreter of the streaky psyche… Unbiased inquiry, occult oddity, the search for understanding as an attempt at control, a wary but nonetheless ardent relationship with the Christian imagery and thought” are “densely woven and excruciatingly resolved in Collins’ one-act plays”.
In Remembrance, a dancer, a mother and his wife perform a kind of personal session, seeking to disentangle themselves from the mess of expectations and labels of life, to access God and a fundamental form of self, in a room cramped bathroom: “As mothers the world over would agree, the most sought-after retreat.” In The Reading, tension fills a psychic’s waiting room as an over-sharing white novelist steers small talk into personal territory with a black fashion designer, leading to a digging verbal and emotional duel. deep disparities in the sense of the right to space, to be heard, to be loved. Subtly surreal Begin the Beguine seems to soar through time and space, as an actress mother and her adult son meet in a “treeless space that looks like a park”, wading – with songs, dances and floating memories – through personal history, regret, and the burden of performance imposed on black Americans. The Healing simultaneously locates intimacy and distance in a single interaction, as a white healer performs a non-contact energetic massage on a black woman seeking alternative treatments for an unnamed disease. All roles in New York productions will be played by black women, in line with the vision of AFROFEMONONOMY collaborators.
Eisa Davis‘The Essentialisn’t finds themes akin to Collins’ work as it evokes Nella Larsen, Jessie Redmon Fauset, WEB Du Bois and Carl Van Vechten as figures of an imaginary sung and spoken reunion that revolves around variations of the question : “Can you be black and not play?” Alongside Collins’ one-act acts and the work of fellow AFROFEMONOMY artists, The Essentialisn’t forms the basis of a free, in-person audiovisual installation, Gold Taste, at Performance Space New York’s Keith Haring Theater, featuring the occasional surprise live sound interaction (May 29-June 27; on view for minimal audiences, with timed entries and COVID safety protocols). As AFROFEMONONOMY continues its intertextual and interdisciplinary exploration over the coming months – probing the overlapping themes of performing the role of good black woman, artist, mother, wife, and the potentials of release from and within them – they will document and open up their process and the ideas it generates for online audiences via web radio programming. The AFROFEMONONOMY website, as well as indoor and outdoor installations, will also feature short films from foreign collaborators in Norway and Senegal. These public-facing offerings are artifacts of AFROFEMONOMY’s creative process that, through community-based care and liberating practice, melts down systemic barriers to their holistic health and well-being.
AFROFEMONONOMY members have collaborated in different configurations, come together and celebrated each other’s work, but have never worked together as a group. WORK THE ROOTS brings together these innovative, multi-genre artists, and their versatile aesthetic and personal stories, at Performance Space New York.
AFROFEMONOMY, in a collective statement, states: “AFROFEMONOMY // WORKING THE ROOTS is an affirmation of how we black women, meant to maintain the health of the world, can restore and not jeopardize ours. Black women absorb disproportionate stress and often develop a variety of risk factors, including higher early death rates from cancer and other diseases.Working in the unsustainable economy and time structures of theatrical creation often exhausts us AFROFEMONONOMY // WORK THE ROOTS is a black woman claiming time and model for restoration, a continuation of the lineage of our forebears’ formative presence in the downtown vanguard We claim our health and sovereignty , prioritizing our human needs, and translate the ease, freedom of expression and non-compulsory ethos of our gatherings to our working conditions and our very aesthetic.”