Celebrating the “Historical” Community through Different Voices: Ping Chong and Talvin Wilks’s “Women of the Hill”
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 I also argue that the finished piece itself becomes another important historical document that reflects not only lives but emotions of the participants and people who surround them.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.
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