Ntozake Shange: Retrospective

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Producer Woodie King, Jr., will be featuring the works of Ntozake Shange, best known for her play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf,” a play birthed in 1975. 

It garnered the Obie Award, Outer Critics Award and the Audelco Award while continuing to be showcased around the world.  Having originally produced and presented Colored Girls in 1976, its no wonder Woodie King, Jr., finds himself presenting Shange’s work “Ntozake Shange: A Retrospective,” 30 years later.

“Colored Girls was done so long ago and yet it still goes on,” recalled Ntozake. “I first started it in California, drove it to New York to the Alternative Jazz Festival and then Woodie picked it up at the Old Reliable on East 3rd Street.  It went to the Public Theatre from there and finally to Broadway.  The play got both acclaim and criticism.  It expressed the pain and suffering of black women and the abuse of their men. Many black men didn’t like the play. Some came gunning after me.

What I wrote was true. I didn’t make up the abuse statistics,” stated Ntozake. “No one had seen a play like that before.  The closest to it is the Vagina Monologues which by the way I performed in, in Florida,” recalled the long time feminist whose Zulu name means ‘She Who Comes With Her Own Things/She Who Walks Like a Lion.’

The poetry, spoken word, readings, and presentations within “Ntozake Shange: A Retrospective” feature some of Ms. Shange’s best works, including “From Okra to Greens/A Different Kind of Love Story,” Boogie Woogie Landscape,” and “Laila’s Dream.”

The event opens February 7, 2007 at 7:00 p.m., and will run at the Henry Street Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center, located at 466 Grand Street, until February 18th.  

Then on Wednesday, February 21st at 7:00 p.m., the venue will change to the Castillo Theatre, located at 542 West 42nd Street in Manhattan, where Ntozake’s commanding new one-act play, “It Hasn’t Always Been This Way,” will heighten the theatrical experience. The play is directed and choreographed by Dianne McIntyre with music arranged and composed by Olu Dara. Also, several panels will be set up on Sundays at 6:00 p.m., hosted by musicians, choreographers, directors, musicians and poets who share their experience working with Ntozake and enlighten the audience concerning her literary repertoire.

Ntozake Shange (pronounced En-toe-Zahk-Kay SHONG-gay) was born to a wealthy intellectual family so it’s no wonder she is a fine wordsmith.  This is clearly demonstrated by the volume of work she has given the world via her poetry, plays, novels and choreopoems, a word Shange created to describe how words entwine and flow with dance.

“Some of my pieces I haven’t seen in 20 years. However, when I wrote Boogie Woogie Landscape, I meant it to be a period piece about the disco era,” remarked the poet/playwright. “A Photograph: Lovers In Motion,” is a very complicated love story about two people who imagine they are meant to be together yet they continually hurt one another.
So much so, there is one scene wherein the language is so violent that every time we tried to produce the play the actress got hurt, so we were never able to have a full run of that play.  I recall one time an actress got her arm injured and another actresses’ leg was broken. Somehow, the way its written hits a nerve within the actors playing the role, thus the scenes tend to get rather intense,” explained Shange of the emotions invoked via the play. 

“However, my play From Okra to Greens/A Different Kind of Love Story is a sweet story about a woman named Okra and a man named Greens. It’s about two people very much in love with each other,” explained Ntozake of her love story.
“When I was working on Laila’s Dream, I became ill.  This is a rather sadomasochistic love story about spirits that come to help Laila stand on her own two feet. I was teaching in Florida at the time I wrote Laila’s Dream but fell ill and have since ended up on disability.  That is why I will be a guest at my theatrical event rather than a participating performing artist,” explained Shange who presently lives in California.

“Mother Courage,” I wanted to do because I had always loved that play and I ended up winning an Obie for my adaptation,” stated Shange concerning her adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s masterpiece. “One of my works Love Space Demands is a combination of love poems and very tragic monologue. It’s a mix of love and tragedy,” explained Shange in explaining the storylines of her prolific work.

“It Hasn’t Always Been This Way,” was first started in 1980 at Symphony Space.  I am very excited about its showcase.  I don’t think linearly so I wouldn’t necessarily call it a story. Black neighborhoods were not always ghettos neither were they always kingdoms for yuppies either.  My play examines that phenomenon. Our neighborhoods changed around the 1950s when heroin came into our neighborhoods.” 

“George Faison will be directing one of my works Betsy Brown.  I look forward to that.  There will be several panels.  There is an educator’s panel featuring several top flight female scholars discussing my work.  And there will be a night of performance when several of my friends will be performing It Has Always Been This Way.  I also sent a last minute play to Woodie entitled Lulu En La Havanna which I hope he will include.  I am always writing, though I slowed down a bit. My work is part me, part make believe and always my passion. I like to get to the truth and to the bottom of things, so I hope people will come out to view my retrospective.”

In 2005, Ms. Shange received the NAACP Image Award for her lifetime contribution to the performing arts. Her CD Wildflowers is presently available. Okra is slated for release some time this year.

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