Theatre of Color for colored girls

In 2013, I taught a seminar entitled “Theatre of Color” at Baruch College that focused on race, racism, and representation but also addressed gender, class, and sexuality. This intersectional approach stemmed in part from my understanding of feminist pedagogy as collective struggle, yet in truth this emerged more because my students asked intersectional questions. When we teach about axes of oppression, we must take care to avoid prioritizing one axis over another and to implicate ourselves by remaining radically open to our students’ critical inventions. Inspired by bell hooks, I sought to create community, provide critical affirmation of feelings and experiences, and provoke critiques of the imperialist white supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy through education as liberation. Almost all of the students were of color and worked part-time jobs, many of them had been born outside of the United States, most of them were women, and some of them identified as queer. My students responded enthusiastically to the recognition of power structures—and themselves—in the texts that we engaged. In turn, they challenged my colonized assumptions about the potential of the class.

To exemplify this point, I remember teaching for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange and pairing up the students to punctuate and perform monologues. I realize now that asking students to punctuate Shange’s choreopoems arguably re-colonized her feminist, antiracist writing to fit a westernized order, but at the time I had thought this exercise would help students who had trouble understanding the play. In addition, I had figured with my heteronormative outlook that in the mixed gender pairs, the man would be reluctant to perform the piece due to patriarchal discomfort with performing femininity. I was very wrong. For all of the man-woman pairs, both students shared the monologue. The pair that chose Lady in Blue’s piece on abortion staged the monologue by having the male student recite most of the lines directly to the audience, while the female student turned away from our gaze, raising questions about power over voice and bodies. The pair that took up Lady in Purple’s monologue about two women friends who unknowingly date the same man made the story their own by queering it and embodying it with their own dialogue and dance. The students performed intersectional, thoughtful interpretations of Shange’s work and pushed me to imagine new possibilities for feminist pedagogy and practice.