As a lover of the classics, I make it my work to engage classical texts through adaptations and color conscious casting. In my adaptation of Titus Andronicus, entitled 10,000 Moor, I placed the character of Aaron the Moor at the forefront of the story. In this five-female led, 60-minute adaptation, not only was Aaron the Moor the focus, but the actress playing Aaron also played Lavinia – pointing towards the abuse and sexual assault that black women face. This adaptation sought to present a classical text while engaging with the injustices black and brown people face today. While we stayed true to the text for the most part, I wrestled with many aspects of the play: the horrific violence was difficult for me, the ending was difficult for me, and Shakespeare's treatment of black, brown, and female characters was difficult for me. So I chose not to show Lavinia's death, I opted to allude to, rather than depict, Lavinia's violent ravishing, and I adapted Aaron's narrative by leaving him alive at the end of the play.
The intent of these adaptations is to incite action, to bring about new thoughts. That is how we should be engaging with students. Those intentions would soon become The Ring Cycle, a nine cycle of play adaptations that will take classic works and put them in conversation with the injustices we face today in society. These adaptations not only place black, brown, and queer characters at the center of the story, but give justice to those characters who have been used, abused and ultimately killed by white playwrights. The first play of the cycle is an adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town entitled Niggertown, centered around the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.
Throughout my education I did not see myself in the classical theatrical canon. These adaptations are my attempt at putting my story and my people’s stories into a literary canon that seldomly recognizes our existence. The Ring Cycle takes place in one of my favorite literary pieces, Dante’s Inferno by Dante Alighieri. Each play centers themselves in one of the nine circles of hell. By exploring Alighieri’s Inferno, I am placing the journey of Dante through the bowels of hell into today, and watching Black people maneuver that hell on earth.
Intrinsically, music and dance are languages I learned to communicate through by observing the way my family, and other Black families around me, lived and thrived. I have been surrounded by the magic that is Black people, and it is that magic that inspires my work. They are the characters and stories that belong in my theatre. As a director, movement director, and choreographer, I draw huge inspiration from Ntozake Shange. The choreopoem is a theatre form that intrinsically speaks to me. I want to understand how to develop and further adapt and work from the dramatic structure that is the choreopoem. Like the choroepoem, dance, music and song belong in the theatre I produce. They are the heart and soul of my theatre, as they are the heart and soul of my life. Shange says “it is possible to start a phrase with a word and end with a gesture. . .” That is how I live my life, and how I make my art.
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