CONTINUUM: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre and Performance  ISSN 2471-2507
Volume 4 Number 1
 - August 2017

Pin It

Embodied Practice: A New/Old Directive for Black Theater
Deanna Lynette Downes

View PDF  PDF icon


Several types of theatre aesthetics have been culturally aligned/rooted and defined by the time in which it was nurtured. Looking at the earliest plays written by queer black women in the black theater tradition we can begin to define an aesthetic that is queer, black and feminist. Embodied Practice: A New/Old Directive for Black Theatre, is about one tenet of this newly excavated queer, black feminist theatre aesthetic. This essay provides a historical and theoretical foundation for embodied practice and offers the practice as a challenge to tell our stories and document our lives in ways that read as real, complex and layered. Embodied practice is an opportunity to change the way in which we can experience history that is culturally and ethnically specific through the medium of theatre.



“Embodied practices can include speaking or singing, grimacing or gesturing, hugging or hitting, reading a script dramatically or performing in full costume…knowledges and identities are preserved and generated.”[1]  Using Mitchell’s term I outline a practice of live, in home play readings among community members as an underexplored theatrical performance connected to the continued excavation and identification of a queer, black feminist performance aesthetic. Embodied practice in this paper is described as the in home play readings amongst small groups of black women; however, this delineation of the practice is not meant as a limitation for other descriptive uses of in home, live play readings among community members. The closing section of this paper offers hypothetical uses for other ways live, in home play readings can be used. I must stress that the purpose of these in home, live play readings is not to pick a play for future play/production selection. Nor are these readings for enticing people who do not normally attend theater or art performances to become subscribers or attendees, although that may affect participants’ future entertainment choices. These readings are meant to infuse through creating a defined opportunity, the ideas of performance and exploration of ideas and circumstances through the characters within a play. Mitchell further outlines the power of embodied practice as a means for those disempowered to experience positions of higher education and power, such as reading the role of an engineer or an educator, like the characters in Angelina Weld Grimké’s play, Rachel. For the black community, at the turn of the century and in contemporary society, these careers were/are delineated by race and/or class, reserved mainly for white Americans and even more inequitably, white wealthy Americans.

This paper accentuates embodied practice as a necessary tenet of performance that is uniquely black, queer, feminist and performative. This paper also sets the stage for the important uses of live, in home play readings as valid forms of performance and places them in their historical footing – a direct lineage to the earliest queer black feminist theatre. This paper is organized into three sections: Separation, Finding Home and Into the Borderlands: Home is in the Border Crossings. Separation addresses the historical need to uncover the unique lineage of queer black feminist theater in order to examine the styles of performance that may sit antithetical to current trends of producing plays for entertainment and capital. Finding Home makes finite the boundaries of theatre arts as meeting different needs for people of color, specifically Black people, through historical insight from black American scholars writing about the foundations of creating theatre and performance for and by the black community. Into the Borderlands: Home is in the Border Crossings addresses embodied practice and applies it hypothetically to other communities of color as a means for crossing cultures in the name of creating new understandings and new bridges for communication of culture, ethics, learning styles/samples/frames and the differences that when understood can often bring us into solidarity (as defined by Gloria Anzadula).  


I. Separation.

In the April, 1968 issue of Black World/Negro Digest, Barbara Ann Teer, founder of National Black Theater center in the Harlem section of New York City, wrote that in order for black actors to avoid the stereotypes created by the white producing world of Broadway oriented theater, black writers, directors, producers, actors and technicians must return to the black community and make theater in the community that is reflective, as a diamond with many facets, of black life and culture. In the early ascendancy of the civil rights movement, one idea of black culture was fashioned to show the world. That one idea, although supported through tireless work by many black women, was patriarchal in its foundations. Black women were the seldom seen and even less heard voices of the movement, which I believe was an exclusionary flaw in its design. When black artists return to the community to create black art it must now be feminist – inclusive- to reflect the many variances and differences in the African diaspora. Separation from the dominant theatre culture also can create an art-generating cask in which the craft can mature and be critiqued among its own audiences first. To be clear, this is not a call for segregation but an argument for separation. Separation over segregation is the call of Barbara Ann Teer’s article, which she answered with her own work when she left the Broadway theater scene to open the National Black Theater Center.

Separation is about more than just creating better shows and acting roles.

Koritha Mitchell in, “Black-Authored Lynching Drama’s Challenge to Theater History”, a chapter of Thomas DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez’s “Black Performance Theory”; states, “…theater and lynching were not discrete entities that sometimes cooperated; they were interdependent.”[2]  The theatrical stage as a cultural institution has been a source of unsubstantiated truth making. White constructions of blackness formed onstage became stereotypes, traveled across the country and internationally and were accepted as truth by audiences. Koritha Mitchell takes the next step to align lynchcraft with stagecraft:  “In 1911, Will Porter was tied to an opera house stage, where ‘his body [was] riddled with one hundred bullets by mob members who purchased tickets to participate’ (Zagrando, 26)”[3]. The act of devaluing black identity onstage, had reached a pinnacle. It was an act of complete erasure with theatrical flare.

Today, Black theater fights for a place on the American stage; why should it? Why should black theater fight to occupy the site of its own lynching? Could it instead fortify itself by returning to private, safe and communal spaces? Could it in fact thrive where theater can be practiced and debated and developed by and with its intended audience? In a July 4, 2014 article The New York Times reported that New Brooklyn Theater Company had begun to engage the work of turn of the twentieth century Black playwrights. They engaged the work through minimally staged readings at a bed and breakfast; however, these readings were specifically aimed at cultivating an audience for a future production of the play.[4] The private space reading is merely used as a means to develop audience. New Brooklyn Theater Company has taken first steps in separation; however the separation has not gone deep enough because the reading is only to gain interest for a future audience. It is like wafting the scent of a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal into the living room for hungry attendants but refusing to serve the feast without first fashioning the proper silverware and dinnerware to eat it with. To quote Chris Rock in I’m Gonna Get You Sucka, “I sure am hungry… Just put it in my hand!”  

II. Finding Home.

In the April 1968 issue of Black World/Negro Digest, Ronald Milner, an emerging Black  playwright wrote, “If a new black theater is to be born, sustain itself and justify its own being, it must go home. Go home psychically, mentally, esthetically, and, I think, physically.”[5]  He goes on to describe his vision of what it means to “go home”. Milner points to self-love as a defining force, along with love of family, friends, the global community, national pride and accountability and woman. I see that as an early feminist view point/function of theater.  Milner calls for play scripts with detail that unseat powerful stereotyped images designed in the early mid nineteenth century. These images were formulated, performed and repeated in blackface minstrelsy and carried across the country and internationally through variety performances of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and films such as “Birth of a Nation”. Milner calls for details of place and person, community and position to build a canon of black representation in theatrical plays. He calls it, “art coming from an intercourse with life!”[6] Milner subtly unseats the one-image idea designed through early civil rights leaders and theatre practitioners like W. E. B. DuBois who also called for the separation of black art. DuBois, however, called for black artists to make black art representative of the talented tenth, which could then be performed for white audiences, as sort of teaching tool, to humanize the black body in the white mind. Milner is asking for a wider swath of black life to be represented. In a casual discussion with a mother of three, she described her home to me as the place where her children can act out, test the borders of their emotions and be guided to better understand themselves and their emotions. In my observations of this family, the children are fully themselves when at home and safe and reserved when among strangers outside the home. This is analogous to the idea of home for the Black artist:  give the Black artist this opportunity to grow and stretch to the ends of themselves in a place that is safe and under the guidance of our elders who are not seeking to craft one idea of a Black artistry but elders who see the many facets of a great diamond.

Home also functions as a literal place, “where all that truly mattered in life took place – the warmth, the comfort of shelter, the feeding of our bodies, the nurturing of our souls.”[7]  For  embodied practice the site is as important as the content of the play. The location that has been sacred and safe for Black communities has been the home. The home has also been a space defined creatively and aesthetically by women because of sexism in the ruling American culture of patriarchy. hooks also identifies the home as “a place where one could resist.” [8]  In the practice of live, in-home play readings, the location should be a home. A tenet not to be overlooked is also the sharing of food –home cooked-- and beverages- as acts of communion. The invitation into someone’s home is an act of intimacy and trust between people and so finding a physical home for the black artist is also essential to the process.


The combination of Black Feminist theory, queer theory and critical autoethnography combine to inform and outline my methods to take black theater “home”. I combine Black feminist theory and queer theory into one study to place my work in conversation with the field of quare studies which seeks to use queer theory to interrogate black studies and vice versa. [9] Quare studies adds Black women to Black studies and queer Black women to queer studies. Critical autoethnography allows me to connect my personal experience as a black, queer, female theater director with the cultural, political, and social significance of the plays and the readings[10] created live with communities of black women.

The Method of Embodied Practice

“Embodied practices can include speaking or singing, grimacing or gesturing, hugging or hitting, reading a script dramatically or performing in full costume…knowledges and identities are preserved and generated..”[11]  Gathering to read plays by black women playwrights is about re-membering the past. By reading these plays aloud in a group, the members are embodying a portrayal of history written by black women of the time period. More than historical re-enactment, this is a restorative act of reading an experience of history through queer, black women who experienced it, rather than through the “other-ing” eyes of the dominant culture. Just as communities reading these plays in the original time period could embody self-defined portrayals of blackness that were unavailable in the mainstream, current readers are able to embody black history and black experience. The works of these women offer platforms for discussion of social justice, race and gender. In these readings we are able to practice our responses to social injustice, review strategies from the past and identify a black existence that is often missing from American history books.  Mitchell posits that because these plays were originally published in periodicals, private homes could become arenas for performance--hence the embodied practice of new archetypes-- within the safety of private spaces. In these private spaces, blacks could discuss, interact with and challenge “the violence that the scripts critique.”[12]  

Theatre Communications Group has developed a program called “Audience (R)Evolution,” designed to address the decline in theater audience attendance over the last decade.  The aim is to figure out how to engage new audiences through a inviting theatres to participate, partnering with a planning and research company, and then releasing a report accessible to those invited theater companies. As a freelance director unbound to a theater company, the idea seems to me an empty gesture. Theatre has become a pastime primarily for the white, wealthy, elite. Those audiences are aging and dying leaving the theaters less than full and without patronage. In the absence of this audience, theaters are turning to ideas of “diversity” as a stopgap. Theaters offer playwrights of color opportunities to have their work produced; in exchange, theaters apply for diversity grants from foundations that help to cover their lost ticket revenue. Theatres gain operating and producing capital while potentially garnering a new audience, if only for the one diverse show each season. Work by playwrights of color attracts some diverse audiences but the work goes no further into the community. In some cases the playwright of color is so pressed to write the next play for the theater (which can get the next diversity grant) that they are pushing out work that has not had time to be developed, causing playwright burn out.

Barbara Ann Teer, in 1968, addressed the role of black actors in the white theater’s attempt at diversity, “…the theater does play a major role in setting standards and values, the black artist who continues to accept these type roles will justify—and also enable—white writers to continue to write them and white producers to continue to make money from them (And can you blame them?), and white audiences will continue to carry a distorted image back home with them.[13]”  Structurally the theater, which wins the diversity grants, is also allowed to retain its lack of diversity among the executive and artistic powers, which is to say the captain and course of the ship remains unchanged. “Broadway doesn’t [really] want your blackness, wasn’t designed or intended for it; definitely doesn’t want any strange new forms inspired by that very blackness. She is a contented fat white cow.”[14]  Diversity cannot be the patch to seal one hole in the bow of American theater’s sinking ship. I suggest we build anew and it may not be a ship!

Here we have a moment, an opportunity to shift the focus of theater from audience development/appeasement back to the initial intent of Black theater, to create for the community. Creating for the community must also take into account how you present to the community. Private spaces, living rooms, places of comfort become key to reaching the community audience. Home Theater Festival International is a movement that is returning art to the community by making art accessible and purposeful again. Home Theater Festival International is a “festival intended to circumvent arts institutions…put[ting] control completely in the hands of the performing artist…”[15]   The Chicago Home Theater Festival (CHTF) takes up this international model and adds a layer of communal cross-pollination. Its goal is to get people from different neighborhoods to go see a piece of art, theater, reading, film, etc. in a different area of the city. I deepen their intentions by adding the importance of art happenings in homes of neighbors to allow communal discussion of issues raised in Black plays and embodied practice of these new self-defined representations of black people. This type of work is important and relevant to the academy and to the professional theater world precisely because it places communal engagement as its priority: “Theatre should stop serving the function of making money, for which it has never been and never will be suited, and start serving the revelation and shaping of the process of living, for which it is uniquely suited, for which it, indeed, exists.”[16] With the surge of black playwrights being produced – black female playwrights in particular- there is a need for renewal in the way black theater is developed, for whom it is developed and how it is produced,  keeping at the fore the idea that “to produce” does not automatically mean a stage, ticket sales and subscriptions, lighting, costume, big budget etc.

Plays built for embodied practice.

"Identity is not the goal but rather the point of departure in the process of self – definition."[17]  This statement by Black feminist scholar Patricia Hill Collins deepens the significance of the characters and stories created by the earliest black female playwrights who reflected rarely shown elements of Black American life on the American stage. At the time of these playwrights, the United States held stage constructions of blackness that were crafted by white people to reflect what white people understood of Black existence.[18] In my exploration of embodied practice I chose to begin with three early works by black women with content that can illuminate our contemporary tensions around race, patriotism and a woman’s right to choose. Angelina Weld Grimke’s drama Rachel portrays an educated African American Southern family that relocates to the North only to be subverted by the racist Northern economy. Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s Mine Eyes Have Seen, is a “blatant attempt to persuade black people to support the war.”[19] Mary Powell Burrill’s They That Sit In Darkness confronted the problem of birth control among impoverished blacks.[20] In the Grimké and Burrill plays a Negro woman holds the center and carries the embedded message of the play. Dunbar-Nelson’s script uses a multi-ethnic company to relay American patriotism with Black siblings at the center. These plays are bold expressions of Black identity during the birth of a new century. They are markers and timepieces of the Black experience in America and can be studied as exemplars of Black culture and history. The work of these women marks the beginning “process of self-definition” through the use of dramatic theater for Black Americans in the U.S. They also mark the moment in time when Black women began to use theatre to write themselves and their lived experiences into history.

With the second edition of Alexander Press’ Black Drama there is no longer a dearth of online access to the earliest Black plays. By choosing to engage these plays through embodied practice we are going home, to those places built for the Black body to reside and grow in and safely practice how to challenge and change the world around them.

Locating the Physical Home.

Scholar Gloria Hull in her book, Color, Sex and Poetry (1987), cites Ralph Graves, a Washington Post reviewer in the early twentieth century, as suggesting, “Rachel be published so that it would have a wide field of missionary usefulness."[21]  For example, in 1915, around the time Rachel was being written and produced by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Dramatic Committee in Washington, D.C., Crisis magazine subscriptions totaled 35,000, increasing to 37,625 the following year.[22] With the growing popularity of Crisis, plays published in the journal were being read by tens of thousands of Black Americans, the main body of subscribers, the NAACP’s official organ.  Imagine having your play read by 37,000 people without counting how many other people were exposed through its sharing in homes, churches and other private meeting spaces that were safe and, in some respects, sacred.

In the early twentieth century gathering spaces for Black folk were limited. Less than fifty years before 1915, laws -- mostly concentrated in the South -- called Black Codes to deter the gathering of black people, were enacted.  Black Codes imposed on blacks in the South easily traveled to the North as southern blacks migrated north in search of a better life. Gathering became an important avenue for sharing information among the Black community, information that included racially driven social injustices, tallies of lynchings, the locations and the names of the victims and those remaining family members. Black folks gathered in private and personal spaces for discussing public, social and political issues. The personal is political and has always been for Black folk in the United States of America. The Crisis was a repository for events of Black life containing within it meeting times, locations and critiques of the triumphs and atrocities of civil rights in the United States and the Caribbean, delivered to homes. I consider archival issues of the Crisis magazine to be monthly encapsulations of Black American History.

Plays published in periodicals and read in defined private spaces of the home created a queer time and space wherein African Americans engaged in conversation about a racist, post-slavery, gendered, social and economic existence in America through the trials of the characters. The lynching notices in other sections of the magazine were reflected in the 1915 play Rachel and 1916 play Mine Eyes Have Seen. The split consciousness of wartime patriotism in a country that publicly condones murder of its people also calls for deeper analysis in the 1916 play, Mine Eyes Have Seen. Withholding information about birth control has consequences revealed through They That Sit in Darkness (1919) published in Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review, which is also controversial, doubling the play’s subversivness.

By lending our voices to the characters we reclaimed pieces of our racially divided American histories too often forgotten and yet too often relived. There were bridges found between the female characters of the plays and the women present in the live readings. It was an opportunity to hear a story that is actually our own. I recall the words of the young woman who read the role of Rachel in Grimké’s Rachel, “She is me, she sounds like me in what she is and how she interacts with her mother…” [23]  In those evenings we experienced a cross-generational and inter-generational exchange of knowledge.

III. Into the Borderlands: Home is in the Border Crossings:

Community readings of the plays within the home were possible because the plays were printed in periodicals. The common order of going from the playwright’s mind to the written page and then to the stage was altered. The new order was from the playwright’s pen to the community, wherein the community decided the roles and performances. Feminist, Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldua, in her book, Borderlands: The New Mestiza = La Frontera, deepens and applies W.E.B. DuBois’ concept of double consciousness to the physical and psychological displacement of Chicano and Mestizo peoples in American history.  In so doing Anzaldua, through her writing, creates a “multi-lingual methodology” of re-dressing American history. I mention Anzaldua as an example of works among other ethnicities that can be embodied, first by the communities for which they are written and perhaps, second as a tool for cross-cultural exchange and embodied learning. The Black American history of theatre-making in America is comparatively as rich and as deep as other ethnicities and cultures in this land. Using embodied practice as a core tenet of a restructured idea of theatre then demands we embrace the borderlands within each of us and unearth works by Latino/as, Chicano/as, Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Irish-Americans and the many other fractured cultural and ethnic identities that comprise America.

This call for cross-cultural embodied play readings is not a call for cultural appropriation. I am interested in the potential for cross-cultural bridges to be built through the use of embodied play readings. However, before the exchange can happen individuals within their cultural and ethnic borderlands – both psychological and physical borderlands – need to excavate plays from their ethnically and culturally specific landscapes and, using the tenets of embodied practice, offer them to their communities first.

 “Take a walk in my shoes.”  The saying is a quaint and cliché but nuanced when applied to this practice of embodied live theater readings. Our community is global thanks to the internet:

The real tasks ahead of us are to embrace more fluid and tolerant notions of personal and national identity, and to develop models of peaceful coexistence and multilateral cooperation across nationality, race, gender, and religion. To attain this, rather than more border patrols, border walls, and punitive laws, we need more and better information about one another. Culture and education are at the core of the solution. We need to learn each others’ languages, histories, art, and cultural traditions.” [24] 

We can use these embodied practices as border crossings between races and communities. What happens when white people embody the black body in a live reading? Is there something to be learned as white men embody the black cultural experience through an exploration of Boy Willie in the August Wilson’s Piano Lesson or the character of Troy Maxson in Fences? What might incur if white women experienced the spiritual traditions through embodying Aunt Ester Tyler in Gem of the Ocean? First, there is an engagement with dialect because these scripts are sometimes written in a dialect different from our contemporary English. Mastery of the dialect is less important than a sincere commitment to the attempt. The readings should also be led by someone who culturally identifies with the play. They act as the shepherd or guide for the group through the play and into the post-reading discussion. With color-blind casting some actors of color have been able to play roles traditionally written for Caucasian-presenting actors that has been a benefit for those actors. However this type of embodied practice is not concerned with performance but with the practice, the process of understanding and reading/playing a role that is ethnically, other than what the reader presents. It is not enough for white people to read Black plays. Embodying a character in a small group, reading aloud followed by discussion mimics a rehearsal environment. Rehearsal for a professional production is a sacred environment for discovery and questioning. The sacred space of an embodied practice is the same for non-professionals and/or those not seeking to create an end production but seeking to explore, culturally, the text and characters, time period and content.

I developed a class called, “Race on the Stage”, wherein the class read Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape. It’s about Irish Americans in the industrial age and Yank, the lead character, trying to find his place in white America. The main character is compared to an ape. The text is written in dialect. More than half the class read it and assumed the main character was Black. They couldn’t discern the dialect as Irish-American – which revealed their preconceived ideas and limitations concerning racial dialect; they mistakenly connected “trying to find a place in white America” and the descriptors of Yank as a hairy ape to a Black man. The history of race in America is varied and beautifully reflected by some early twentieth century playwrights. This is the opportunity to confront our own perceptions and perhaps find and identify the roots of our prejudices and misunderstandings of cultures:  “We need to educate our children and teenagers about the dangers of racism and the complexities of living in a multiracial, borderless society – the inevitable society of the next century.” [25]  Embodied Practice provides an opportunity to reclaim our identity, which is absent from history books or presented as “other” through the dominant culture’s eyes. Embodied Practice of live play readings in community gives access to discussions on politics, religion, and issues on race, gender and sexuality. Furthermore this is a tool to at once reform and empower Black American identity. When taken up and embodied by other cultures, it is also a tool for crossing cultural borders, creating and securing intertwined roots of a growing multicultural and diverse American culture: “Collaborative projects among artists from different communities and nationalities can send a strong message to the larger society: Yes, we can talk to one another. We can get along, despite our differences, our fear, and our rage.” [26]  Take a walk in my shoes and I’ll step into yours and together the embodied learning begins.

[1] Koritha Mitchell, Living with Lynching:  African American Lynching Plays, Performance and Citizenship, 1890-1930 (Urbana:  University of Illinois Press, 2012), 5.

[2] ________, “Black-Authored Lynching Drama’s Challenge to Theater History,” Black Performance Theory, Thomas DeFranz and AnitaGonzales, eds. (Durham, North Carolina:  Duke University Press, 2014), 92.

[3] Mitchell, “Black-Authored Lynching Drama’s Challenge”, 89.

[4] Richard Morgan, “Four Plays by African-American Playwrights,” New York Times 4 July 2014,

[5] Ronald Milner, “Black Theater, Go Home!”  Black World/Negro Digest 17.6 (April 1968), 5.

[6] Milner 10.

[7] bell hooks, Yearning:  Race, Gender and Cultural Politics (Boston:  South End Press, 1990), 41.

[8] Hooks 42.

[9] E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson, eds., Black Queer Studies:  A Critical Anthology (Durham, North Carolina:  Duke University Press, 2005), 126.

[10] Robin M. Boylorn,  Critical Autoethnography:  Intersecting Cultural Identities in Everyday Life (Walnut Creek, California:  Left Coast Press, 2013).

[11] Mitchell, Living with Lynching, 5.

[12] Ibid, 15.

[13] Barbara Ann Teer, “The Great White Way is Not Our Way—Not Yet,”  Black World/Negro Digest 17.6 (April 1968), 24-25.

[14] Milner 9.

[15] “Curating for Radical Generosity,” Chicago Artists Resource, n.p.,n.d., web, 5 August 2014.

[16] Zelda Fichandler, Address to the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, 26 October 2011, HowlRound, web, 8 August 2016.

[17] Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought:  Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, 2nd ed. (New York:  Routledge, 2000), 125.

[18] Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin, “Lessons in Blackbody Minstrelsy:  Old Plantation and the Manufacture of Black Authenticity,” TDR:  The Drama Review 57.2 (2013), 102-122.

[19] Gloria T. Hull, Color, Sex, and Poetry:  Three Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance (Bloomington, Indiana:  Indiana University Press, 1987), 71.

[20] Christy Gavin, ed., African American Women Playwrights:  A Research Guide (New York:  Garland, 1999).

[21] Hull 120.

[22] Timeline/The Crisis Magazine/A Record of the Darker Races, web, 19 August 2013.

[23] Post-reading discussion of Angelina Weld Grimke’s Rachel, audio recording, Chicago, Illinois, 2014.

[24] Guillermo Gomez-Pena, The New World Border:  Prophecies, Poems and Loqueros for the End of the Century (San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2001), 70.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid, 71.


Anzaldúa, Gloria, and Sonia Saldívar-Hull. Borderlands: The New Mestiza = La Frontera. 2nd edition. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999. Print.

Boylorn, Robin M. et al. Critical Autoethnography: Intersecting Cultural Identities in Everyday Life. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, 2013. Print.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. 2nd ed., Rev. tenth anniversary ed. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

 “Curating for Radical Generosity.” Chicago Artists Resource. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2014.

DeFrantz, Thomas F., and Anita Gonzalez. Black Performance Theory. Duke University Press, 2014. Print.

Gavin, Christy, ed. African American Women Playwrights: A Research Guide. Critical Studies on Black Life and Culture v. 31.  New York: Garland Pub, 1999. Print.

“Gloria Anzaldua Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.” thoughtjam. N.p., 2 Jan. 2009. Web. 15 Aug. 2016.

Gomez-Pena, Guillermo. The New World Border: Prophecies, Poems, and Loqueras for the End of the Century. San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2001. Print.

hooks, bell. Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1990. Print.

“Hooks-Reading-1.pdf.” Web. 18 July 2015.

Hull, Gloria T. Color, Sex, and Poetry: Three Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Print.

Johnson, E. Patrick, and Mae G. Henderson, eds. Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2005. Print.

Kootin, Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe. “Lessons in Blackbody Minstrelsy: Old Plantation and the Manufacture of Black Authenticity.” TDR: The Drama Review 57.2 (2013): 102–122. Print.

Milner, Ronald.  "Black Theater Go Home!"  Black World/Negro Digest 17.6 (April 1968):  5-10.

Mitchell, Koritha. Living with Lynching: African American Lynching Plays, Performance, and Citizenship, 1890-1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012. Print.

Morgan, Richard. “Four Plays by African-American Playwrights.” The New York Times 4 July 2014. Web. 30 July 2014.

Post-Reading Disscussion of Angelina Weld Grimké’s Rachel. Chicago, Ill: N.p., 2014. Audio Recording.

Teer, Barbara Ann.  "The Great White Way is Not Our Way--Not Yet."  Black World/Negro Digest 17.6 (April 1968):  21-29.

“Timeline | The Crisis Magazine | A Record of the Darker Races.” N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2013.

“Video: The Origins of Black Codes | Black Codes and Pig Laws | Theme Gallery | Slavery by Another Name | PBS.” N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.

“Zelda Fichandler’s Address to the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society in Celebration of the Third Annual Zelda Fichandler Award—October 26, 2011.” HowlRound. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Aug. 2016.


Deanna Lynette Downes, Ph.D. is an independent artist-scholar who received a Masters of Fine Arts in Directing from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in Theatre from University of Colorado Boulder. At various universities Deanna has taught lecture courses in Europeanist theatre history, excavating race in American theatre and exploring global theatre history as culturally and ethnically specific. Since 2011, she has been the company Dance Dramaturg for Gesel Mason Performance Projects.  She also served as the Assistant Director for Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s critically acclaimed production, Party People, which opened at The Public Theatre in New York City in the fall of 2016; and Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. Deanna’s research is a rediscovery of the work of three black female playwrights in the years 1915-1920, identifying them (the work and the playwrights) as early practitioners of a queer black feminist theatre aesthetic. As a part of her research she has held readings of these plays with women’s groups in Chicago, Illinois; Cherry Hill, NJ; Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC. As an artist-scholar Deanna’s current and future work, at its core, focuses on radicalizing the arts for community.