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for colored girls who have considered
suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf….
by
Ntozake Shange
REMEMBERING THE GOLDEN POND AESTHETICS TREATISE
BLACK THEATER:
“It must be a recuperative, preservative, and transformative ritual”
Shange during production “The cast is enveloping almost 6,000 people a week in the words of a young
black girl growing up, her triumphs & errors, our struggle to become all that is forbidden by our
environment, all that we have forgotten”
“It transforms Space”
Shange- “The space we used was the space I knew: Women Studies Departments, bars, cafes, & poetry
centers”
“It must have a continuity of sprit”
Shange- “Every move we’ve made since the first showing of “for colored girls…” in California has
demanded changes [to get] as close to
distilled as any of us in all our art forms can make it.”
Ntozake Shange: Biography (1948-)
(Paulette Williams or “She who walks like a lion and brings her own things.”)
As a part of an upper middle class and rich intellectual family in Trenton New Jersey, she was an avid reader of great authors to include Jean
Genet, Herman Melville, and Langston Hughes. She also came in contact with great musicians and singers like Dizzy Gillespie, Chuck
Berry, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Josephine Baker, all friends of her parents. W.E.B. DuBois was also a family visitor.
Returned to New Jersey at age thirteen (1961/62) where she completed high school and became increasingly aware of the inequities of the
American society on black females.
Began at Bernard College in 1966 at the age of 18. A year later, attempted suicide after a recent separation from her law school husband and
becoming consumed with a sense of bitterness and deep alienation. She actually had made a series of attempts at suicide to include:
sticking her head in an oven, drinking chemicals, slashing her wrist, taking an overdose of Valium, and driving her Volvo into the Pacific.
Earned a bachelor's degree with honors in American studies from Barnard College in 1970. Earned a master's degree in American studies in
1973 from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
In 1971 decided to take an African name: Ntozake means "she who comes with her own things, and Shange means "who walks like a lion."
This change occurred as a mechanism to reinforce her inner strength and to redirect her life.
Taught humanities, women's studies, and Afro-American studies from 1972-1975 at Sonoma State College, Mills College, and University of
California Extension. During the same period, she was dancing and reciting poetry with the Third World Collective, Raymond Sawyer's
Afro-American Dance Company; West Coast Dance Works; and her own company which was then called For Colored Girls Who Have
Considered Suicide.
In 1975 moved to New York which was facilitated by the production of her choreopoem, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when
the rainbow is enuf .
First produced Off-Broadway, by Joseph Papp, the play soon moved onto Broadway at the Booth Theatre, becoming the second play to be
written by an African-American woman to “reach Broadway” and won a number of awards, including the Obie Award. This play, her
most famous piece, was a twenty part poem chronicling the lives of black females in the United States. The poem was eventually made
into the stage play, and was first published in book form in 1977.
Shange has written a number of successful plays, including an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children (1980),
which won an Obie Award.In 2003)
Wrote and oversaw the production of Lavender Lizards and Lilac Landmines: Layla's Dream while serving as a visiting artist at the University
of Florida, Gainesville.
Contributes individual poems, essays, and short stories of hers have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies.
She now prefers to be know for her current, non-commercial work, including her bilingual work with the Latin American working people’s
theater, her association with the Feminist Art Institute, and her installation art.
Shange’s Self-Professed Influences Before Reaching the Other Side of the Rainbow:
Baraka, Brecht and the Play’s Major Themes and Symbols
SELF-PROFESSED “INFLUENCES”
Baldwin: Shange is influenced by Brecht. We see this in various ways. First and foremost is that the piece calls attention to itself as
performance. Shange is using Epic Theater and the alienation-effect to first and foremost, as she tells us in her introduction, to convey
a message, “I came to understand that these twenty-odd poems [composed] a single statement, a choreopoem [….] [O]ur struggle to
become all that is forbidden by our environment, all that is forfeited by our gender, all that we have forgotten.”
•
•
Baraka?” (here Shange is paying more of a nod to the movement than the man): Shange refashions “Baraka’s” use of slashes, lower
case letters, phonetic spelling and dialect and embraces the BAM idea of using the theater as a center as a weapon for consciousness
raising inside the Black community. BUT THERE IS A NOTABLE DIFFERENCE HERE: WHAT IS IT?
Shange later clarified that her writing style was a means by which she could write herself (and Black woman-hood) into literature; to
“attack deform n maim the language I was taught to hate myself in.”
FORM, GENESIS AND PERFORMANCE- (more on Shange’s “Brechtian” Influence)
Monologues vs. choreopoem (a series of poems choreographed to music). The performers of a choreopoem are, according to Shange ,
supposed to NARRATE the lines while dancing the poems. (BRECHT’S ALIENATION EFFECT)
HOWEVER! These are not poems set to music with accompanying dance steps, but rather an integration of speech, movement, gesture, and
music that together comprise the CHOREOPOEM
This form, for Shange, serves as a “new space for black culture, a medium that would not be judged by the stifling conventions of
European and American theater.” So whereas Baldwin turned to Brecht to articulate the absurdity of race in America, Shange
refashions Brecht, making his EPIC THEATER a space to explore these same absurdities, but her theater, unlike Baldwin’s, does not
look like the theater of Brecht (as does Baldwin’s).
AND THIS IS HER THEATRICAL GENIUS! THE PLAY IS BOTH A BRECHTIAN PIECE THAT ASKS ITS AUDIENCE TO STEP BACK, EXAMINE, AND
HEAR A MESSAGE AND IT IS ALSO (to borrow from Houston Baker) A DISTINCTLY AFRICAN-AMERICAN FORM OF EXEGETIC
THEATRE. It seeks to engage the audience in a performative dialogic process where form and content are one: in other words the play
is a transformative ritual. (This is not quite true owing to the ending, but we’ll get to that later”
SYMBOLS
1)
THE RAINBOW- Shange explained that she realized that the rainbow is “the possibility to start all over again with the power and beauty
of ourselves,” b; “The rainbow is a fabulous symbol for me [….] If you see one color, it’s not beautiful. If you see them all, it is. A
colored girl, by my definition, is a girl of many colors. But she can only see her overall beauty if she can see all the colors of herself. To
do that, she has to look deep inside her. And when she looks inside herself, she will find love and beauty.”
2)
Staging elements: costumes, movement, lighting, etc.
THEMES
Black Womanhood and Black women’s self-realization/ emancipation. (Racism, Sexism [The Black Macho and “down low]), Identity, Alienation
and B.A.M. Feminism)
Dark Phrases: Ritual, Reflection, Heterogeneity, and Unity in the
Rainbow (p.3-7)
The stage is in darkness. Harsh music is heard as dim blue lights come up. One
after another, seven women run onto the stage from each of the exits. They
all freeze in postures of distress. The follow spot picks up the lady in
brown. She comes to life and looks around at the other ladies. All of the
others are still. She walks over to the lady in red and calls to her. The lady
in red makes no response.
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LADY IN BROWN dark phrases of womanhood of never havin been a girl/ halfnotes scattered/ without rhythm [/] no tune/ distraught laughter fallin/ over
a black girl's shoulder/ it's funny[/] it's hysterical/ the melody-less-ness of
her dance/ don't tell nobody don't tell a soul / she's dancin on beer cans &
shingles
this must be the spook house/ another song with no singers/ lyrics[/] no
voices/ & interrupted solos/ unseen performances
are we ghouls?/ children of horror? / the joke?
Talking Points
don't tell nobody don't tell a soul/ are we animals? have we gone crazy?
i can't hear anythin / but maddening screams / & the soft strains of death / &
you promised me you promised me . . . / somebody/ anybody sing a black
girl's song bring her out to know herself to know you but sing her rhythms
carin/ struggle/ hard times sing her song of life she's been dead so long
closed in silence so long she doesn't know the sound of her own voice her
infinite beauty she's half-notes scattered without rhythm/ no tune sing her
sighs sing the song of her possibilities sing a righteous gospel let her be
born let her be born & handled warmly.
LADY IN BROWN i'm outside chicago LADY IN YELLOW i'm outside detroit
LADY IN PURPLE i'm outside houston LADY IN RED i'm outside
baltimore LADY IN GREEN i'm outside san francisco LADY IN BLUE i'm
outside manhattan LADY IN ORANGE i'm outside st. louis
LADY IN BROWN & this is for colored girls who have considered suicide/ but
moved to the ends of their own rainbows.
EVERYONE mama's little baby likes shortnin, shortnin/ mama's little baby likes
shortnin bread
1)
Describe the lack (and non lack) of the communal in this
scene
2)
How is heterogeneity being portrayed here?
3)
What is the paradox of Shange’s symbolic rainbow?
(Keep in mind that rainbows are made up of “all” colors
and and allow for reflection)
4)
Describe the multiple layers of exegetic theater at work
in this scene. OR… How is Shange suggesting
choreopoetics work here? Why follow a soliloquy with a
children’s song? When does this become a Black play?
(When does Shange say, in essence, “Let there be a
Black woman’s theater” in the same way Jones said,
“Let there be a Black poem.”)?
“sechita”(p. 23-25)
Past Performances and
Incarnations of Colored Girls
Identities and Archetypes
Soft deep music is heard, voices calling "Sechita" come from the wings and volms. The lady in purple
enters from up right.
LADY IN PURPLE once there were quadroon balls/ elegance in st. louis/ laced mulattoes/
gamblin down the mississippi/ to memphis/ new orleans n okra crepes near the bayou/ where
the poor white trash wd sing/ moanin/ strange/ liquid tones/ thru the swamps/
The lady in green enters from the right volm; she is Sechita and for the rest of the poem dances out
Sechita's life. sechita had heard these things/ she moved as if she'd known them/ the silver n
high-toned laughin/ the violins n marble floors/ sechita pushed the clingin delta dust wit painted
toes/ the patch-work tent waz poka-dotted/ stale lights snatched at the shadows/ creole
carnival waz playin natchez in ten minutes/ her splendid red garters/ gin-stained n itchy on her
thigh/ blk-diamond stockings darned wit yellow threads/ an ol starched taffeta can-can fell
abundantly orange/ from her waist round the splinterin chair/ sechita/ egyptian/ goddess of
creativity/ 2nd millennium/ threw her heavy hair in a coil over her neck/ sechita/ goddess/ the
recordin of history/ spread crimson oil on her cheeks/ waxed her eyebrows/ n unconsciously
slugged the last hard whiskey in the glass/ the broken mirror she used to decorate her face/
made her forehead tilt backwards/ her cheeks appear sunken/ her sassy chin only large enuf/
to keep her full lower lip/ from growin into her neck/ sechita/ had learned to make allowances
for the distortions/ but the heavy dust of the delta/ left a tinge of grit n darkness/ on every one
of her dresses/ on her arms & her shoulders/ sechita/ waz anxious to get back to st. louis/ the
dirt there didnt crawl from the earth into yr soul/ at least/ in st. louis/ the grime waz store bought
second-hand/ here in natchez/ god seemed to be wipin his feet in her face/ one of the
wrestlers had finally won tonite/ the mulatto/ raul/ was sposed to hold the boomin half-caste/
searin eagle/ in a bear hug/ 8 counts/ get thrown unawares/ fall out the ring/ n then do searin
eagle in for good/ sechita/ cd hear redneck whoops n slappin on the back/ she gathered her
sparsely sequined skirts/ tugged the waist cincher from under her greyin slips/ n made her face
immobile/ she made her face like nefertiti/ approachin her own tomb/ she suddenly threw/ her
leg full-force/ thru the canvas curtain/ a deceptive glass stone/ sparkled/ malignant on her
ankle/ her calf waz tauntin in the brazen carnie lights/ the full moon/ sechita/ goddess/ of love/
egypt/ 2nd millennium/ performin the rites/ the conjurin of men/ conjurin the spirit/ in natchez/
the mississippi spewed a heavy fume of barely movin waters/ sechita's legs slashed furiously
thru the cracker nite/ & gold pieces hittin the makeshift stage/ her thighs/ they were aimin coins
tween her thighs/ sechita/
“Studying the mythology of women from
Antiquity to the present day led directly to
the piece “sechita” in which a dance hall
girl is perceived as a deity, as slut, as
innocent & knowing.” Shange (1977)
“sechita/ egyptian/ goddess of creativity/
2nd millennium / threw her heavy hair in a
coil over her neck/ sechita/ goddess/ the
recordin of history / spread crimson oil on
her cheeks/ waxed her eyebrows/ n
unconciously slugged the last hard whisky
in the class”
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1)
Keeping in mind the Brechtian project of Shange’s play, namely to
envelop the audience in “all that has been forbidden and forfeited by our
gender, all that we have forgotten,” describe how this scene performs that
work. How is this more than a monologue in front of a peep show? How
do Shange’s choreopoetics “flip the script” on the exploitation of women
and to what ends do they do so?
2)
The conflation of the word in the moment (the monologue) with the content
(the play). What is Shange trying to suggest about the power that might
lie (in respect to self liberation in a world conspiring against it), within
feminine Archetypes? Why does the monologue shift back and forth
between mentioning brutal historical realities only then to slip back into a
celebration of timelessness and majesty? How might this be a
suggestion to the community on how to make it through the day to day
sh#t that this actor has to put up with?
LADY IN YELLOW i've lost it touch wit
reality/ i dont know who's doin it i thot i
waz but i waz so stupid i waz able to be
hurt & that's not real/ not anymore/ i shd
be immune/ if i'm still alive & that's what
i waz discussin/ how i am still alive & my
dependency on other livin beins for love
i survive on intimacy & tomorrow/ that's
all i've got goin & the music waz like
smack & you knew abt that & still
refused my dance waz not enuf/ & it waz
all i had but bein alive & bein a woman &
bein colored is a metaphysical dilemma/
i havent conquered yet/ do you see the
point my spirit is too ancient to
understand the separation of soul &
gender/ my love is too delicate to have
thrown back on my face
The ladies in red, green, and brown enter quietly; in the background all of
the ladies except the lady in yellow are frozen; the lady in yellow
looks at them, walks by them, touches them; they do not move
LADY IN YELLOW my love is too delicate to have thrown back on my face
The lady in yellow starts to exit into the stage right volm. Just as she gets to the volm, the lady in brown comes to life.
LADY IN BROWN my love is too beautiful to have thrown back on my face
LADY IN PURPLE my love is too sanctified to have thrown back on my face
[….]EVERYONE
(but started by the lady in orange) and saturday nite and saturday nite and saturday nite
EVERYONE
and complicated and
complicated and complicated and complicated and complicated
(but started by the lady in red) and complicated and complicated and complicated
The dance reaches a climax and all of the ladies fall out tired, but full of
life and togetherness.
no more love poem’s #4 (45) Culminates in the Selfand Communal- The Love of Choreopoetics:
Movement/Chant/Expression/Ritual/Renewal
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Talking Points: 1) Let’s first pay attention to the poem. How would you
characterize the change that occurs in the voice of the voice of the persona?
How would you describe the change in words as they are written on the page?
Is the speaker/writer coming into clarity? Why or Why not? Locate the confusion.
Does the Lady in Yellow make a step towards conquering this dilemma? What
does she want you to see? Is the dilemma in question one that just is, or is it
one that language, as this poem frames matters, seems to complicate or reinstantiate?
2) In this scene of the choreopoem which Shange, notably, does not give a title,
we see a liberation build and culminate. It comes immediately after the
sequence of “no more love poems,” all of which express a metaphysical
frustration with love as it effects “colored girls.” Describe the multiple liberations
that occur in this scene? When the performers do away with love poems in order
to create this love poem, how are they, in a sense, mirroring Shange’s project
with respect to the analogy I drew between Malcom’s speech and the Brechtian
message of Shange’s play
a laying on of hands p. 60
Completing the Transformative Ritual
LADY IN RED i waz missin somethin
LADY IN GREEN somethin promised
LADY IN ORANGE somethin free
LADY IN PURPLE a layin on of hands
LADY IN BLUE i know bout/ layin on bodies/ layin outta
man bringin him alla my fleshy self & some of my
pleasure bein taken full eager wet like i get
sometimes i waz missin somethin
LADY IN PURPLE a layin on of hands
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LADY IN BLUE not a man
LADY IN YELLOW layin on
LADY IN PURPLE not my mama/ holdin me tight/ sayin
i'm always gonna be her girl not a layin on of
bosom & womb a layin on of hands the holiness
of myself released
LADY IN RED i sat up one nite walkin a boardin house
screamin/ cryin/ the ghost of another woman who
waz missin what i waz missin i wanted to jump up
outta my bones & be done wit myself leave me
alone & go on in the wind it waz too much i fell
into a numbness til the only tree i cd see took me
up in her branches held me in the breeze made
me dawn dew that chill at daybreak the sun
wrapped me up swingin rose light everywhere the
sky laid over me like a million men i waz cold/ i
waz burnin up/ a child & endlessly weavin
garments for the moon wit my tears i found god in
myself & i loved her/ i loved her fiercely
All of the ladies repeat to themselves softly the lines ‘i found
god in myself & i loved her.’ It soon becomes a
song of joy, started by the lady in blue. The ladies
sing first to each other, then gradually to the
audience. After the song peaks the ladies enter
into a closed tight circle.
LADY IN BROWN & this is for colored girls who have
considered suicide/ but are movin to the ends of
their own rainbows
Talking Points
1)
Keep in mind that this laying on of hands is “making me [the Ladiez”] whole” because
they were missing something promised and free. What were they missing?
2)
Keep Brecht’s Epic Theater in Mind. The play proclaims itself a ritual in this scene.
What kind of ritual is occurring (if one is) with the laying on of hands?
3)
How does the Lady in Red’s monologue contextualize this ritual with respect to
Christian cosmology and/as rapist.
4)
“I found god in myself & I loved her.” The lady in red’s statement becomes, in turn a
chant. How does (or does it?) this chant transform both the statement and the
speakers once it becomes a chant. Describe the multiple resonances of this
transformation. Have the Ladiez merged into one universal “WOMAN” or is something
much more complex going on here?
5)
Notice the Brechtian ending. The Ladiez unfold and all face the audience to deliver a
message “for colored girls who have considered suicide/ but are movin to the end of
their own rainbows”. If this message for that audience alone? If so, was Malcom’s
only for the men on the Nation of Islam? Let’s hear it: INFLAMMATORY
DISCUSSION TIME
(THE END.)
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for colored girls who have considered suicide when the