Ain’t I a woman
March 5, 2017
Filed under Opinion
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The Lacroute Arts Series at Linfield College combined the Departments of Music and Theater and Communication Arts to present “Ain’t I a Woman!” performed by the Core Ensemble and actress Shayla Simmons.
Brenda Marshall, the chair of the Department of Theater and Communication Arts, said that this performance was being held in honor of Black History Month and now Women’s History Month.
Theater and music have always gone hand in hand. I was surprised, though, that there was only one actress and three musicians: Ju Young Lee on the electric cello, Mikael Darmanie on piano and Michael Parola on percussion, which included a three-piece drum set and a vibraphone.
This was a three part play, each part telling the story of a different woman of color in history. The first about Zora Neale Hurston, the second about Clementine Hunter and the third about Fanny Lou Hamer.
In the first part, Zora Neale Hurston tried to take credit for her own writing, but her friend, who was working on the book with her, did not allow her to have any credit. Since she was doing the copywriting, she only put her name on the book, the book never published and the friendship was over.
Between each part was a short interlude where the ensemble performed a song. The vibraphone held the melody over a rather galloping, western-like background. But then the pianist and percussionist began to clap a rhythm. The cello sounded, and part two was rolling.
The second part was about how Clementine Hunter started painting when the masters of a plantation called her in from cotton picking and asked her to clean up the house. Instead of throwing away the old paint that they didn’t want, she used it. Later, after she was freed, a New Yorker told her he was going to make her famous with her paintings, attention that she didn’t care for.
The end of the set ended on a somber note, when she showed a painting of angels to the audience, telling us that she was ready to die and happy with the full life she was given. The actress walked off stage, and the musicians clapped the rhythm as she walked.
The second interlude was a little more jazzy and urban. This set up the scene for 1962 near Indianola, Mississippi.
This scene took place in three different places: the home of Fannie Lou Hamer, her hospital room and in a flashback. This was a more tragic story of Fannie along with a group of other colored women who went to court to register to vote. In doing so, she lost her home, lost her job, was arrested and beaten until she couldn’t stand, just because she wanted to vote.
She was narrating the play by talking to her husband, and by the end of the scene, Fannie was telling her husband about how she wanted to register to vote and that she was going to get it. “I don’t know much about politics, but I’m running for Congress.”
I loved how the music and the program helped the audience follow along. Under each part in the program was a list of songs that the ensemble performed during the play. By following each song, audience members were able to get a little more narrative from the song titles.
The play ended with a triumphant and jazzy song, which Simmons sang, “I’m on my way,” while she walked off stage.