The women of color who performed "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf" last year at Auburn Public Theater faced a common question after the curtain:
All but two of the show's nine cast members had never performed theater before, and no plans were in place for the cast to perform together again. But Ntozake Shange's show proved so popular with audiences, selling out performances and even necessitating an encore, that the cast, director Gwen Webber-McLeod and APT Artistic Director Angela Daddabbo knew they had something special.
One of those cast members, Dr. Juhanna Rogers, called the show a transformative experience.
"We formed bonds and friendships going through that journey that you can't just turn away from when the show's over," she said.
The show's warm reception, meanwhile, "speaks to the realistic need for spaces dedicated to women of color to share and tell their stories," she added.
So those women will continue journeying together, sharing those stories, when Rogers directs the group's next production at the downtown theater this weekend: "A Gatherin' Place."
The new production started taking shape after Shange passed away in October, Rogers said. A speaker, artist and educational activist in Syracuse, Rogers felt an urge to create in the legendary playwright and poet's absence. When Webber-McLeod approached her about directing the group's next show, Rogers agreed despite the uncertainty surrounding it.
Gwen Webber-McLeod believes 2018 Auburn is the right place and the right time to stage a 197…
Much of that uncertainty stemmed from the show itself. The women, who've since taken the name The Harriet Tubman Troupe, workshopped material at each other's kitchen tables, Rogers said. Eventually, she brought a piece she wrote years ago, "It's Hard to Tell a Black Woman's Story." After reading it, Rogers continued, she and the other women knew they had their starting place.
Rogers' piece frames the episodic narrative of "A Gatherin' Place," which sees the women of Gathering Street share their stories with the listening ear of Ms. Paulette. Her advice empowers them to take control of their lives and confront struggles with motherhood, work, love and self-worth. But when Ms. Paulette passes, the women realize something they didn't know about their neighbor.
"We created something that will continue speaking to, for and about women of color, and the power of connecting with one another in various ways," Rogers said. "In a very real way, we're able to build bridges by recognizing the similarity of our stories to others' stories. We need to think intentionally about that in this climate."