This Issue
Volume 3, Number 1, June 2016

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Dr. Sandra Shannon, Editor-in-Chief

Executive Editorial Board

Dr. Sandra Adell, University of Wisconsin
Dr. Paul Bryant-Jackson, Miami University, Ohio
Dr. Sandra Shannon, 
Howard University
Dr. Beth Turner, 
Florida A&M University

Consulting Editors
Dr. Harry Elam, Stanford University
Dr. Freda Scott Giles, 
University of Georgia

Book Review Editor
Dr. Sandra Adell
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Production Review Editor
Rebekkah Pierce
The Pierce Agency, LLC

Dr. Hely M. Perez Alvarado
Project Development Consultant
P and P Projects, LLC

CONTINUUM: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre and Performance  ISSN 2471-2507
Volume 3 Number  1
 - CALLS FOR SOCIAL ACTION IN BLACK THEATRE - May. 2016

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Continuum:

The Journal of African Diaspora Drama,
Theatre and Performance
 
 Calls for Social Action in Black Theatre
  


TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

Technical Notes/Browsing the Journal

Editorial Notes: "Calls for Social Action in Black Theatre" - Sandra G. Shannon

ARTICLES

 

Continuum logo16x16 Casting Stones: The Men of Lynn Nottage's Ruined
     Shayla Atkins
    {-- ::While scholars read the issues in Ruined as primarily about the women, one should note the issues also affect the men, both in the play, arguably, in the continuing violence against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other parts of Africa. This essay examines how Ruined also offers a nuanced commentary on the men and the war's impact on them as well. There is a potential for misreading the work if one does not consider, first, the narrative in cultural context, and second, the portrayal of the Congolese men who are divorced from family and home. An examination of the men's negotiation of their liminality exposes their efforts to resist the structure.}  ABSTRACT  {/--}  {-- ::Shayla Atkins is a Lecturer in the Department of English at Howard University. She earned her Ph.D. in African American Literature from Howard University in 2016. Her research interests include sites of trauma, family dynamics, gender studies, and intersections of literary and performance studies in 20th/21st century African American literature and drama.}  BIO  {/--}

In discussions of Lynn Nottage's Ruined (2009), one reoccurring issue among theatre scholars is the work that the play does as a performance about war and women. In his review "Mama Nadi and Her Women" in American Theatre, Randy Gener explains that Nottage creates "a humanist exposé" about women's ravaged bodies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). While Sharon Friedman acknowledges Ruined's negotiation of the war's effects on women, she maintains that the play fails to address the issues of the civil war taking place in DRC effectively (2010). Further, Barbara Ozieblo questions in "'Pornography of Violence'" the ways violence is spectacularized and thereby made pleasurable compared to other plays that deal with violence, but she maintains that Ruined "ends with a glimmer of hope" (2011, 75). Moreover, in his New York Times review in February 2009, Ben Brantley identifies moments in the play as overly sentimental and unnecessarily longwinded, thereby taking away some of the import of the war awareness effort, and in The New Yorker's March 2009 issue,Hilton Als claims the "speeches...are too self-consciously purposeful not to be corny. Still, we believe them, if only because [1]Nottage does." . . ..

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Continuum logo16x16 "Still Playin Wid Dem Barbie Dolls? Never Mind, Don't Answer That": Tyler Perry's Stage as a Lonely Place for Black Queers
       Timothy S. Lyle

    {-- ::Abstract:  In this project, I address Perry’s sexual politics and his oppressive tendencies towards black queers by asking about Perry’s conflicted admixture of homoeroticism and heterosexism in some of his earliest plays to the current moment. Though Perry often centralizes and engages in homoerotic moments onstage as Madea (Perry in drag) sexualizes hypermasculine, shirtless young men on stage, he still manages to insert moments of oppressive dialogue and to privilege taken-for-granted heteronormativity in thematics of his fictive world. As I attempt to reveal why Perry’s stage is a lonely place for black queers, I look to Perry’s characterization of his first presumably black queer character in the stage version Madea’s Family Reunion. I examine Perry’s aesthetic and political choices concerning the staging and dialogue spoken by this character as well as the comments made about, around, and to this character from other dramatic players.

My chief objectives are to illustrate how Perry toys with a dialectic of oppression and activism and to uncover the double-bind faced by black queers on Perry’s stage or in his audience—that of acting as cultural inspiration for the marrow of Perry’s dramaturgy and functioning as the object of scrutiny, contingent tolerance, and non-reciprocal humor. Ultimately, I aim to highlight the complicated nature of Perry’s discourse concerning blackness and queerness to spotlight how he dramatizes a few of the fundamental dilemmas facing Black queer men in the African American community—especially dilemmas surrounding family, grudging acceptance, and the silence imperative.} ABSTRACT {/--}  {-- ::Timothy S. Lyles is an Assistant Professor of African American Literature at Iona College. He earned his Ph.D. from Howard University in Washington, D.C. and his M.A. and B.A. from Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA. Dr. Lyle specializes in contemporary African American literature and culture, with a particular focus on the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and disability. He has most recently published "An Interview with Janet Mock" in Callaloo (38.3, Summer 2015), "'Prolonging Last Call': Jamaica Kincaid's Voyeuristic Pleasures in My Brother" in The Journal of West Indian Literature (22.1, Nov. 2013) and "Check with Yo' Man First; Check with Yo' Man: Tyler Perry Appropriates Drag as a Tool to Re-circulate Patriarchal Ideology" in Callaloo (34.3, Summer 2011). His forthcoming book-length projects explore HIV/AIDS representations post-1997 through the lens of narrative pleasure and ethical responsibility and introduce the burgeoning literary histories of transgender women of color.}  BIO {/--}

Though scholars have only started to measure Tyler Perry's import as a cultural figure, an industry expert, and a political mouthpiece, his early work as a dramatist matters immensely in mediating on dynamics of blackness and queerness on the black American stage in the twenty-first century. In an earlier project,I probed the politics of Perry's performative drag acts to ask complicated questions about his ostensible feminist stance (Lyle 2011), but with this current rumination, I hope to extend my scope to address Perry's sexual politics and his oppressive tendencies towards black queers. If careful readers of Perry's work recognize and interrogate the fact that Perry is in drag for much of his dramatic corpus —an act so heavily centralized in affirmative queer subcultures—we might ask complex questions about Perry's conflicted admixture of homoeroticism and heterosexism in some of his earliest plays to the current moment. Though Perry often centralizes and engages in homoerotic moments onstage as Madea sexualizes hypermasculine, shirtless young men on stage, he still manages to insert moments of oppressive dialogue and to privilege taken-for-granted heteronormativity in thematics of his fictive world... . . . 

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Continuum logo16x16 Neoliberalism, Gentrification, and Black Theatre in San Francisco and St. Paul
    Macelle Mahala

    {-- :: As the organization and makeup of American cities have changed, so have the place of African American theatres in contemporary urban arts ecologies. As institutions that engage a diverse range of artists and patrons at the intersection of racial politics, city planning, and aesthetic production, these organizations both reflect and contribute to notions of civic engagement within a multi-ethnic public sphere at the same time as they articulate the cultural specificities, socio-political realities, and histories of African Americans. This essay addresses how the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in San Francisco and the Penumbra Theatre Company in St. Paul have responded to shifting demographics and negotiated strategies for sustaining their organizations and their community ties. Each of these theatres has responded to changes in the urban landscapes in which they are situated in ways that reveal efforts to support working class historically black neighborhoods in American cities where the cost of living has increased and African Americans have been or are in the process of being displaced.}  ABSTRACT {/--}  {-- ::Macelle Mahala is Associate Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of the Pacific. She writes about the intersection of theatre, race, and social justice. She is the author of Penumbra: The Premier Stage for African American Drama (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), which received Honorable Mention for the 2014 Errol Hill Award for Outstanding Scholarship in African American Theatre Studies. Her writing has been published in Theatre Journal, Theatre Topics, Women & Performance, and XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics. As a theatre artist she has worked with Artists in Storefronts, The Illusion Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, New World Theatre, The New York Mills Cultural Arts Center, Penumbra Theatre Company, Pillsbury House Theatre, The San Francisco Mime Troupe, The Soap Factory, and Works/Plays. She received her PhD and MA from the University of Minnesota and her BA from Macalester College.}  BIO {/--}

As the organization and makeup of American cities have changed, so too have the place of African American theatres in contemporary urban arts ecologies. As institutions that engage a diverse range of artists and patrons at the intersection of racial politics, city planning, and aesthetic production, these organizations foster civic engagement within a multi-ethnic public sphere. They also articulate the cultural specificities, socio-political realities, and histories of African Americans. 

Today, many cities operate within a neoliberal framework that sees art as part of "the creative economy" and a tool for urban renewal and gentrification (Howkins 2002; Clark 2011). At the same time, urban theorists such George Ritzer (2009; 2012), Michael Sorkin (1992), and Sharon Zukin (1991; 1996; 2011) have lamented the increasing privatization of public urban spaces. They point to the popularity of gated communities, the shifting of universities towards what has been termed "edu-tainment," the decline of main street, and the rise of big box stores as evidence of this phenomenon. This restructuring of urban space has transformed arenas formerly understood as civic and public into areas that are increasingly experienced as private and consumptive. In the essay "Neoliberal Urbanism: Cities and the Rule of Markets" Nik Theodore, Jamie Peck, and Neil Brenner describe the process of American urban neolibralization as the "destruction of the 'liberal city' in which all inhabitants are entitled to basic civil liberties, social services, and political rights," and the "'rolling forward' of new networked forms of local governance based upon public-private partnerships and the 'new public management' "(2011, 22-23). . .

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Continuum logo16x16 Celebrating the "Historical" Community through Different Voices: Ping Chong and Talvin Wilks's "Women of the Hill"
     Yuko Kurahashi

    {-- :: The focus of this essay is the 2009 installment of Ping Chong & Company's oral history series Undesirable Elements. Co-created and directed by Ping Chong, Talvin Wilks (playwright and director), and Sara Zatz (who has worked with Chong on Undesirable Elements for over a decade), "Women of the Hill," performed by six women who live or have lived in Pittsburgh's Hill District, chronicles decades of the participants that include lives and experiences of the participants and their family members.

Exploring historical meanings embedded in the narrative of the script, I will investigate the role of "Women of the Hill" as an important oral history of the Hill community. In examining how the participants' shared personal memories to capture and re-inscribe history of the Hill, I argue that the process of the re-inscription has brought about a new, performative, oral history. I also argue that the finished piece itself becomes another important historical document that reflects not only lives but emotions of the participants and people who surround them. I will examine how Chong celebrates diversity within the group, finding the "Hill" as the amalgam of variables in personal and communal history while valuing the shared memories and histories. To that end, I will also examine how multiple voices of the participants are woven to a larger, macrocosmic history, illuminating underrepresented parts of history in a way that the members of the Hill community could memorialize.}  ABSTRACT {/--}  {-- ::Yuko Kurahashi is an Associate Professor of theatre in the School of Theatre and Dance at Kent State University. Her areas of specialty include multicultural theatre, community-based theatre, and intercultural theatre. She is the author of Asian American Culture on Stage: The History of the East West Players (Garland, 1999) and Multicultural Theatre (Kendall/Hunt, 2004 & 2006). Kurahashi is a writer for PlayShakespeare.com.}  BIO {/--}

The above self-introductions are from the opening section of "Women of the Hill," the 2009 installment of Ping Chong & Company's oral history series Undesirable Elements. Co-created and directed by Ping Chong along with playwright and director Talvin Wilks and Sara Zatz—who has worked with Chong on Undesirable Elements for over a decade—Women of the Hill chronicles several decades in the lives of six women and their family members who live or have lived in Pittsburgh's Hill District.

Chong, who has been known for his innovative scenography since his first theatre piece staged in New York City in the 1970s, used his training in visual arts and film at the Pratt Institute and at the School of Visual Arts and in dance with Meredith Monk to create an unconventional type of theatre that integrated different art forms—dance, film, puppetry. He has explored and developed eclecticism in his art for the last four decades, staging multimedia and movement-based theatrical pieces on a wide range of subjects from his early abstract conceptual theatre work to more recent story-based work. . . .

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PHOTO GALLERY

Honky 2

Honky by Greg Kallares.  Performed at Black Box Theatre at the Nadine Maguire Theatre Pavilion.  University of Florida  March 18-26.  Directed by Mikell Pinkney.   Photograph by Suzanna Mars. 

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