Saturday, June 8, 2013

First-Person: Letitia Brookes on Single Black Female (Fringe: Montreal)

Hearing the Tick-Tock
by Letitia Brookes

A recent grad of Concordia University’s Theatre Program, Letitia Brookes started her company, Nu Spyce Productions, in 2011 and was recently seen in Persephone Productions’ Oroonoko by Paul Van Dyck.
About two years ago I went to my doctor for an annual checkup and before leaving, she said to me, “Tick tock, Letitia.” Even though no one had ever, or has ever chided me about it, I knew exactly what she was trying to say. Despite my short stature, baby face, and high voice, I’m 32 years old. And not only that, I’m a 32 year old woman who is unmarried and without any kids. That’s not a bad thing, but it does apparently mean that my time is slowly starting to run out when it comes to having children. She explained that even though more and more women are having kids later in life, it’s also way more difficult, and there’s higher risk of complications. O-K. 

I had just finished my company’s first production, Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf at MainLine Theatre. It was well received and I knew that whatever my next show would be, I wanted to continue exploring the lives of Black women. One of the reasons I chose to do For Colored Girls was because I was unsatisfied with the image of Black women in the media, film, and on stage. Oftentimes Black female characters fit a tired stereotype of being loud, feisty, arrogant, impoverished and with a whole bunch of children; or, they are women of high stature, prim and proper that seem almost too perfect. But what about women that fall in-between? The Black women that are smart and educated, but still struggle with their flaws and insecurities?

Thompson uses humour and wit to address stereotypes and discrimination

I found what I was looking for in Single Black Female by Lisa B. Thompson. The show is about two best friends going through the pleasures and perils of being single, middle-class, Black women in their 30s. SBF 1 is an intellect and professor who feels ambivalent about marriage and the traditions surrounding it, while SBF 2 is a sassy lawyer who wants it all (marriage, career, kids, minivan). Through vignettes the show explores amongst other things, internet dating, racial bias, and dealing with well-meaning family and friends who love reminding SBF 1 and 2 that time is ticking (hmmm, sound familiar?) My co-star Gara Nlandu and I also play an array of characters – meddling aunts, ex-lovers, and ghetto sistas who decide to resolve their issues on network TV.  (You’ll have to see the show to know what I mean!). 

What I love most about this play is that Thompson uses humour and wit to address stereotypes and discrimination that not only are inflicted upon African Americans by outside influences, but also about the ones that are sometimes perpetuated within our own community. As a Black woman who has chosen to keep her hair in its natural afro state, I’m still occasionally advised by people of my own race that long, straight and silky hair is more attractive. Gara and I are both Black women; but the mere fact that we are of different complexions, can result in us being treated or regarded differently.  

I admit, being producer, director and actor in this piece has been trying. I’ve made mistakes, missed deadlines, and lost plenty of sleep. As someone who’s always tried to be organized and put together, it’s been humbling to have no choice but to let go of the perfectionist in me. But working on this show has also been so much fun - and educational. For promotion, we interviewed some Black women and men to get their opinions on topics that come up in the show. The honesty and frankness of our interviewees surprised and excited me. Single mothers talked candidly about juggling responsibilities on their own, and some Black men talked about the (perceived) difference between dating women of different cultures. It was also eye opening for the non-Black people involved with the project to learn about issues they never even knew existed.

In the beginning, my crew and I started many rehearsals getting to know each other and talking about our backgrounds. We discovered that despite our many differences, there were also many similarities and commonalities in our experiences.

And in the end, that’s what’s important. When I did For Colored Girls and also now with Single Black Female, I was told that my choices in plays were too specific; doing an independent production with an all ethnic cast isn’t relatable enough and not very marketable. But I don’t agree. Perhaps not everyone will know who Huey P. Newton or Ralph Ellison are when briefly referenced in the show; but everyone knows what it’s like to deal with a heart broken and have to pick up the fallen pieces. We can’t wait to share this production in the St-Ambroise Montreal FRINGE!

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