With the sounds of rats scurrying in the background, Rhea Prem ’19 sat illuminated by the spotlight and huddled at the center of the stage with her legs drawn into her chest. Pulling at the edges of her plum dress tunic, Prem’s voice cracked with emotion as she performed the poem “Abortion Cycle #1”: “metal horses gnawing my womb, dead mice fall from my mouth.”
“Abortion is a very tender topic, especially in today’s day and age. You never really hear about a person’s specific experience. [The character] didn’t want people to judge her for becoming pregnant without having a spouse. And it’s just really empowering to see — she put herself through all of that, she went to a back-alley doctor just to get an abortion,” said Abigail Ndikum ’20, one of the performers.
Prem’s scene is one of many in the play “For Colored Girls,” which was originally written by Ntozake Shange. The play is what is known as a “choreopoem,” or a performance that combines poetry, dance, music, and song.
“‘For Colored Girls’ is a play that, to me, is timeless. [For] anyone who was coming of age during that era, this was a pivotal play to the affirmation of Latinx and black female experiences in the United States. The intersections with race and class and gender are significant; especially in a time when we have a strategic plan which is addressing issues of empathy and balance and equity and inclusion, the timing feels right,” said Linda Carter-Griffith, Assistant Head of School for Equity, Inclusion and Wellness, who co-directed the play in collaboration with Allen Grimm, Instructor in Theater and Dance.
In addition to the topic of abortion, the poems in “For Colored Girls” tackled other sensitive topics such as domestic violence, emotional abuse, and sexual assault. In addition to their heavy themes, the poems addressed social and gender dynamics by exploring multiple perspectives, which ranged from childish innocence to unapologetic cynicism. The play offers multi-faceted insight into the diverse experiences of girls of color, according to Angel Cleare ’19, a performer.
“There’s no one experience for colored girls. I guess the point of the play is that there are a lot of different stories; some of them you can relate to and some of them you may not be able to relate to. I feel like that’s the point because there [are] so many different stories for everything,” said Cleare.
Given the wide range of heavy topics within the play, the actresses’ primary challenge during the preparation for the play was to fully envelop themselves within the characters portrayed in each performance. The play features both mature and emotional content, which required strong dedication from all cast members in order to execute their monologues to achieve their intended effect.
“In one of the plays, someone says, ‘Tonight, maybe I can make myself come without you.’ Some people have to get comfortable with things like that. And also being able to identify with the role that you’re playing in order to better play that role,” said Tessah Almonacy ’21, who is a dramaturg (This is apparently the official name?) for the play.
In order to overcome these challenges, the group participated in many workshops and discussions related to different facets of identity early in the term.
“We did a lot of identity work early on, especially, talking about race, gender, class, faith, sexuality, and sexual orientation, and then on top of that, historical trauma and how that all fits into the scope of the play, but also how that resides in yourself. I think it’s one of the few times where students can have this kind of experience, especially in their time and year at Andover,” said Grimm.
According to Grimm, “For Colored Girls” is a good opportunity to not only start conversation about the stories of those that we neglect to tell, but also facilitate further conversation in many parts of campus.
“This performance serves as a way to do that and also open up the conversation. And I also think that, even though, to me, it feels like a play centered on black and Latinx women, I also think that, as a whole, it centers on women of color and speaks to experiences that disproportionately affects our communities that are often not talked about,” said performer Cindy Espinosa ’18.
“For Colored Girls” performances will be Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. at Steinbach Theatre. Tickets are available for $5.00 at the Theatre Box Office in George Washington Hall.