«Contemporary Plays by Women of Color is a compelling collection of new and recent works by African American, Asian American, Latina American and ...»
3 The appendix to Unbroken Thread: An Anthology of Plays by Asian American Women (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993) lists some two hundred plays by Asian American women writers, most of which are in archives at the University of Massachusetts library under the Roberta Uno Asian American Women Playwrights’ Script Collection 1924-present. The archive also contains playbills, photographs, interviews, and production histories. Other archives which include Asian American women playwrights can be found in the University of Hawaii’s Hawaiian-Pacific Collections and the University of California at Los Angeles archives of the East West Players.
10 KATHY A.PERKINS AND ROBERTA UNO
Hortensia and Elvira Colorado
Since Roberta and I both are teaching similar courses at our respective institutions, we found ourselves constantly looking for new plays, documentaries, articles, and other sources in addition to exchanging materials. At a theater conference In 1991, we began talking about compiling this anthology, since there was none available that contained in a single volume contemporary plays by women of color. Within the last three to four years there have been a handful of exciting publications that focus exclusively on contemporary works by women of color, but by racial and cultural division. Some of these include Velina H.Houston’s The Politics of Life: Four Plays by Asian American Women, Linda Feyder and Denise Chavez’s Shattering the Myth: Plays by Hispanic Women;
Sydne Mahone’s Moon Marked and Touched by Sun, and Roberta Uno’s Unbroken Thread: An Anthology of Plays by Asian American Women.
While there are other works by women of color in single-author publications or contained in various anthologies that include both male and female writers, the number of publications is small in comparison to the immense volume of work being created. When we began this project we were astounded by the number, variety and quality of scripts we read. Among the many exciting and powerful works we were unable to include because of the length of the volume were plays by Sheri Bailey, Laurie Carlos, Faye Chiang, Eugenie Chan, Joanna Chan, Judith Jackson, Teresa Chavez, Oni Faida-Lampley, Jude Narita, Cherylene Lee, Valletta Anderson, Silvia Gonzalez S., Marina Feleo-Gonzales, Amy Hill, Wakako Yamauchi, Jake-ann Jones, Rhodessa Jones, Lisa Loomer, Diana Saenz, Regina Taylor, Robbie McCauley, Karen Jones Meadows, Monique Mojica, Nobuko Miyamoto, Victoria Kneubuhl, Regina Porter, Marian Warrington, P.J.Gibson, Delores Prida, Linda Faigao Hall, Jessica Hagedorn, Suzan Lori Parks, Shay Youngblood, Jeannie Barroga, Velina Hasu Houston, Genny Lim, Lynn Martin, Lynn Nottage, Edit Villarreal, Josefina Lopez, Endesha Ida Mae Holland, Aisha Rahman, Yolanda Rodriguez, Dael Orlander Smith, Caridad Svich, Natasha Terry, Alice Tuan, Denise Uyehara, and Ermina Vinluan—to name a few. These are women who are breaking traditional boundaries in writing and engaging difficult themes with originality and integrity. It is our hope that the bibliography which concludes this volume will lead readers to the growing body of published dramatic literature by women of color and that anthologies such as this will lead to greater publishing opportunities for the many talented writers waiting to be read and produced.
Despite the number of women of color writing for the theater, resisting invisibility remains our greatest battle. Our invisibility is also perpetuated by the negligible number of plays by women of color that are produced at our “anchor” institutions, i.e. the American regional theaters. The October 1993 Issue of American Theatre magazine listed 223 regional theaters along with their 1993– 94 season. Of over 1,300 plays listed, fewer than fifty-five were by women of
INTRODUCTION 11color, of which forty percent were written by five writers, productions of proven success by theaters unwilling to take risks.
Despite these obstacles of perception and opportunity, plays by women of color are slowly making their way into publication and onto the stage. Currently, such scholars as Linda Kerr Norflett are preparing anthologies on playwrights of color. Vital newsletters, such as Beth Turner’s Black Masks and Paul Rathbun’s Native Playwrights Newsletter, keep us abreast of what is happening In the theater communities of color. Women of color artistic directors of first-voice cultural institutions, such as Miriam Colon of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, Pearl Cleage of Just Us Theater, Roberta Uno of New WORLD Theater, Marsha Jackson of Jomandi Theater, Amy Gonzales of El Teatro Campesino, and Nobuko Miyamoto of Great Leap, have consistently cultivated new plays by women of color. As have a small but determined number of theater groups which provide important outlets for works specifically for women of color, including Imelda Hunt’s New Works Writers Series in Toledo, Ohio; The Medea Project of Cultural Odyssey in San Francisco; Root Women of Austin, Texas; Sangoma, under the direction of Sydne Mahon at Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey; El Centro Su Teatro of Denver’s Latina Lab; Luna Rising in San Francisco; The Towne Street Theater in Los Angeles, headed by Nancy Cheryll Davis and Nancy Renee; and the Latina Theater Lab of Brava!
For Women in the Arts in San Francisco. And women of color persist in making their presence known through productions in theaters and venues who exist to challenge the artistic “mainstream,” such as Franklin Furnace, Theatre for the New City, PS 122, and La Mama ETC of New York City; Highways of Santa Monica, California; and Josie’s Cabaret in San Francisco. Despite the odds, women of color are carving out their own spaces in the American theater, refusing to endure the silent scream of invisibility.
In selecting this collection of eighteen excerpted, one-act, and full-length plays, we were compelled not only to look at what was missing from our students’ and our own educations, but to examine our own sense of feminism as it applied to the aesthetics and practice of our artistic work. For us, feminism has been an unexpressed and constant fact of our lives as women of color, but we have ironically found ourselves periodically at odds with some of its proponents, who
12 KATHY A.PERKINS AND ROBERTA UNOskirting racism, have imposed their ideas on us. Too many times we have heard the claim, 1 know what it’s like to be black (Asian, Latina, Native American) because I’m a woman.” Often we have observed the white feminist who will import a woman of color from out of state as a guest artist, lecturer, or consultant, rather than to work with the women of color in her own community, or we have been silenced by the white feminist who has “inadvertently” written us out of history because we have not taken or made the time to write our own stories. Of course there are white feminists we both have learned from, been inspired by, and have worked in alliance with, but our experience has taught us the lesson Ida B.Wells noted long ago, that we cannot rely on others to carry the banner for us. In examining our evolving feminism, we continuously return to the expression of theory in practice, asking questions such as: Who is in the leadership of a given project? How are decisions made? Is there a centrality of women’s experience, women’s voice in the play? Is there a root culture or an evolving cultural sensibility that informs and shapes the piece? How do we position ourselves in relation to the work in order to best support and understand the playwright’s voice?
Thus, there is no single theoretical or aesthetic framework, feminist or otherwise, with which we approached this project. Long ago at New WORLD Theater, we recognized the danger and impossibility of being a theater of artists of color if we did not respect cultural autonomy—otherwise our work might become a muddied palate or a hollow new-age minstrel show. The plays of this volume are diverse in their aesthetics, structures, and themes; yet there are points of intersection and refraction that unintentionally emerge as dialogue, as refrain, as a response to a call. Their collective presentation is an invitation to the reader to seek both parallels and differences, to confront the flash points where perceptions collide and to look deeply into and through the mirrors and windows where mutuality of experience exists.
Although these works can be viewed in many different ways, we were struck by the recurrence of certain themes: violence against women, response to media and historical stereotypical images, identity formation, the impact of poverty on individuals, families, and communities; the relationship of woman to her body, the relationship of women to each other, the response of a given community to crisis. The plays present varying approaches to playmaking, including solo performance and collective creation.
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, The Queen’s Garden, 1992 Blood Speaks, and Heroes and Saints all look at communities at a crisis point, a shattering place facing an irreversible moment in history, the impact of which forever alters the community and each individual. Brenda Wong Aoki’s The Queen’s Garden and Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight Los Angeles, 1992 were both written as solo performance pieces. The former zeroes in on a narrow section of urban terrain, Long Beach’s West Side, tracing a love story that spirals out of control, paralleling the disintegration of a neighborhood lost to gun violence and drug wars. In contrast Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 courses over the sprawling
INTRODUCTION 13landscape of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, weaving like a seismically fractured freeway through socially disparate neighborhoods, juxtaposing polarized attitudes, which are inevitably linked. Through solo performance Aoki and Smith become the mediums through which multiple character voices speak, providing a spectrum analysis of a society in crisis.
Hortensia and Elvira Colorado’s 1992 Blood Speaks identifies the moment of Columbus’ mythical “discovery” of the Americas as the turning point for Native people; their satiric deconstruction of history’s lies is framed by spirituality and healing that celebrate the spirit of survival. In Cherríe Moraga’s Heroes and Saints, crisis is faced by a Chicano farmworker community whose children are dying, victims of the indiscriminate and ruthless use of carcinogenic pesticides. Moraga confronts racism and California’s multi-billion dollar agribusiness on the most intimate level, the female body; the story revolves around a young Chicana born so severely deformed, that she is little more than a human head.
Re/membering Aunt Jemima: A Menstrual Show, R.A.W. (‘Cause I’m a Woman), China Doll, and Combination Skin deal to varying degrees with the deconstruction of stereotypes. Breena Clarke and Glenda Dickerson tackle the mythic figure of Aunt Jemima, simultaneously dismembering and reconstructing the infamous icon, while shamelessly subverting some of America’s dearest and most racist myths regarding black women. In China Doll Elizabeth Wong exposes the racism of the film industry as silent screen star Anna Mae Wong, barred from playing lead roles, is forced to teach a Caucasian actress how to play an adhesive-tape oriental. Diana Son’s R.A.W. (Raunchy Asian Women) juxtaposes the attitudes of flesh-and-blood Asian women against prevailing notions that present them as exotic and submissive sexual commodities. In Combination Skin Lisa Jones exploits the format of a television game show to demolish the historical phantasm of the tragic mulatto; simultaneously she derides and dissects the taboo of miscegenation and contemporary passing games.
Sun, Moon, and Feather, Marga Gomez’s excerpted trilogy, and Weebjob comment upon the formation and re-formation of identity, a previously uncharted journey of the character and spirit. Gomez’s excerpted autobiographical trilogy includes Marga Gomez is Pretty Witty & Gay, a comic exploration of her lesbian identity. The play is set on the eve of her appearance on a nationally broadcast talk show, or as she refers to it “lesbian jury duty.” The companion pieces, Memory Tricks and A Line Around the Block, respectively inspired by Gomez’s eccentric and talented parents, “Marga the Exotic” Estremera, an exotic dancer, and stand-up comedian Willy Chevalier, pay tribute not only to her parents, but to the 1950s’ golden era of Latin show business in New York. Sun Moon and Feather is the collective creation of the Native American feminist troupe Spiderwoman Theater, whose members Gloria Miguel, Muriel Miguel, and Lisa Mayo are sisters of Cuna-Rapahanock Indian heritage. The play follows their intertwined relationship through their childhood in Brooklyn, their lives as children whose parents made a living running a medicine show, and their
14 KATHY A.PERKINS AND ROBERTA UNOunconventional career as performers. In contrast to the Gomez and Spiderwoman pieces, Diane Glancy’s Weebjob departs from autobiographical source. The main character of her semi-mythical odyssey is a young woman who cannot resist hitchhiking; her act of flight leads her full circle to her place of origin and true discovery.
Poverty encircles the lives and choices of the women in Come Down Burning, The Have-Little, and Inter-tribal. Rape, abuse, self-abortion, and the decision to bear children in the face of deprivation, are major issues which surface in the three plays. The limited geography of poverty demarcates the characters’ domain of action to the domestic; their ultimate battleground and frontier is their bodies.