The Complex Yet Simple Messages of For Colored Girls…
A theater professional with over twenty years experience in New York and Philadelphia, Ardencie Hall-Karambe, Ph.D. is an associate professor of English and theater arts at the Community College of Philadelphia and an adjunct professor and the director of theater Arts at Cheyney University. She cofounded and leads Arden Blair Enterprises, which houses several subsidiaries, including Kaleidoscope Cultural Arts Collective.
The resident theater company of North Philly’s landmark cultural hub The Church of the Advocate, Kaleidoscope presents Ntozake Shange’s seminal work For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival. Ardencie talked to FringeArts about the work, its relevance, and the role of art.
FringeArts: What was your introduction to For Colored Girls…. ?
Ardencie Hall-Karambe: I was introduced to For Colored Girls when I was a senior in high school in LaPorte, Texas, a small town outside of Houston. I read some of the poetry in a speech/forensic tournament.
FringeArts: What moved you about it?
Ardencie Hall-Karambe: What moves me about the piece is my relationship to some of the situations the characters go through on their journeys to healing. It was one of the first pieces about black people that I read that didn’t weigh itself down with the history of black enslavement in this country. It’s there, but it is not the focus. It was the first piece that I read that spoke to the conditions of black women with an attitude that I understood. The characters experience every emotion and courageously invites the audience to join them in this communal catharsis, and I love that.
Ardencie Hall-Karambe: For Colored Girls encapsulates the essence of the fringe movement in performance. From its very conception, it was a fringe, an extension, outside of the boundaries of conventional dance, music, and theater. That’s why it is called a choreopoem and not a play. It’s the very notion of having very little, a fringe of something, and creating a complete garment or making a complete statement.
It was one of the first pieces that spoke to the various forms of black womanhood. It is a call for us to push through the crap and the crud to find the god-force that lives in us, and love it more than anything or anybody, and use it to ignite our Black Girl Magic. For Colored Girls… and literary works like it are the framework for the Black Girl Magic concept and ideology that we see today.
FringeArts: Should art be understood, or experienced?
Ardencie Hall-Karambe: Art should be understood, or there is no experience at least not one an artist wants. (I hear the clapback.) As an artist, I want the audience to come away with something that simulates them emotionally, mentally, and, sometimes, physically. Is it an experience if you don’t feel something or understand what you just watched? I don’t think so; at least not for me. An underlying question for me is can you truly experience art without understanding it? Yes, physical you can, but it could be like a form of torture for the put upon person.
As an artist, I don’t mind making people uncomfortable, but never to point to where a message is missed. For me, in order for art to be experienced, truly experienced, it must be understood by the viewers on some level. They must be able to find a concept, an idea, a thought that is real for them, that they can explore even if they disagree, or it becomes a masturbatory exercise and the only one getting off is the artist.
FringeArts: Is there a message you want to convey?
Ardencie Hall-Karambe: I want to bring out the various configurations womanhood particularly black womanhood. The message of the piece for me, at this point because it has changed over the years, is that healing oneself is a bitch, a fight, a row that we must undertake to find the higher power in ourselves. It can’t be avoided if we are to truly experience the creation of life to the fullest.
FringeArts: How does this work fit Kaleidoscope’s larger mission?
Ardencie Hall-Karambe: Kaleidoscope Cultural Arts Collective is about removing the things that weigh us down as individuals and as a community. We aim to move people beyond racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Look at a kaleidoscope: it has every color and various shapes that combine to make complex yet simple images. There is no need for dominance; it is all about the interplay of ideas and notions. That’s what we want for our society. For Colored Girls is about removing social and personal constructs that bind your wings not allowing you to soar. The ideas are akin.
FringeArts: What else are you looking forward to this Fringe Festival?
Ardencie Hall-Karambe: I’m looking forward to seeing the wealth of performance out and around the Philadelphia area. I hope to meet great audiences who love live performance, and I hope this event will bring different folks—those just beginning to drip into the Philly art scene—out to the venues.
FringeArts: We hope so too! Thanks Ardencie.
What: For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf
When: September 14-23, 2018
Where: Klein Advocate Theatre at the Church of the Advocate, 2121 North Gratz Street, North Philly
Created by Kaleidoscope Cultural Arts Collective