Friday, July 17, 2009

Review in the Washington Post Critiques the Saartjie Project, and My Piece in Particular


So, today, I learned of a review that was written yesterday in the Washington Post by Post writer Nelson Pressley about the Saartjie Project show "Deconstructing the Myth of the Booty" that we performed this past Wednesday. First off, let me tell you, the Wed show was incredible! The energy we felt back stage and onstage was amazing. I think we were a lot more well-rested than we were on Friday's show of last week which began at 11pm and didn't end until almost 1 am in the morning. Wed's show was fluid and the packed audience seemed to really enjoy us.

The review is a favorable one in which it encourages folks to come out and positively highlights some of our favorite pieces-- Binahkaye Joy's solo piece "Bare" which is based on her work as a nude model and Farah Lawal's monologue "Exotic Beauty".

Some of his negative criticisms rested heavily on the piece I penned, "Changing Muse" which depicts the four sterotypical images forced upon black women over the decades-- the mammy, the angry black woman ("aka the Bitch"), the video vixen/jezebel and the Black Militant. In his review, Pressley writes:

"...how, in five or so minutes, can you meaningfully suggest four stark types (from suffering kerchiefed matriarch to strutting mini-dressed hip-hop gal) for contemporary black women to play? The dialogue meanders and the idea simply isn't fleshed out."

Well, my response to Mr. Pressley is that (1) the characters were purposefully "stark"-- they are stereotypes, muses for many of the often racist caricatures black women are expected to portray on film, within the work world, etc. and (2) to flesh out, or lengthen-- which I assumed was the critique's basis, it was too short-- is to nullify our use of the vignette formula. The vignette "Changing Muse" is a conversation between our sterotypes which raises the question "Who is at fault?" Are the stereotypes created from accurate images or are they tools to further oppress and create divisiveness among women?

One comment he wrote that disturbed me was the suggestion that the goal of a piece on black woman stereotypes is not appropriate for contemporary women to play. I feel he is being both presumtuous and not in tuned with the fact that these "stark images" still smother (or attempt to smother) our efforts as black women to emerge from the blanket of stereotypes. To address them head-on is imperative, particularly within the context of the story we weave.

Secondly, as someone who writes reviews, I know that the expectation of the paper you write for is to make sure that your review is balanced in that it is not totally touting the piece, but also highlighting areas fit for improvement. What the challenge is for a non-female and non-black person reviewer is giving a review about our piece without being born from the framework in which the piece speaks to. I found that to be the case with the following review of our show as well on the DC Theatre Scene web site.

I am not saying that I believe only a female black woman can review our piece and fairly review it, "understand" it and enjoy. That would be ridiculous to insinuate, particularly given the feedback we've received over the past year of numerous performances from folks of all races, nationalities and genders. However, I do believe that a certain expectation for our performance is borne from a "traditional" theater format and model that is not indicative of our experimental piece, nor borne from a space that is diverse. I also think, based on the feedback in particular from black women, that the work is often shockingly personal and intimate and the ability to relate is often linked to your experiences garnered from your existence as a black woman.

If you've seen the show, I would love to hear your feedback to discuss.

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