Sunday, April 08, 2007

what are you going to do, shoot me? - alt-theater blackgrrl makes good on camera, part one

a few years ago, it seemed that i couldn't sit through a movie preview without seeing someone that i knew onscreen. i'd think back and remember which off-off broadway play or musical we'd done and when, and in my head i'd feel a strange sense of pride and glee for them, that they'd gone hollywood and "made it"-- not fame, really. just steady work. and to my way of thinking, that was making it. mazeltov.

but then one day i turned on the television and they were there, too. almost every commercial break meant having to sit and watch someone i knew hawking cookies or room sanitizer or God knows what all -- which was hysterical, if you really stop to think about it. i even recognized a few here and there with roles on sit coms and tv series. eventually, a passing conversation with an actor-acquaintance who gave me a ball park idea as to how much they were probably making made my jaw drop. was i missing the boat here?

when i had this epiphany, i had been doing theater in nyc professionally for about 10 years. i don't dance, so i knew that the broadway chorus wasn't anything for me to consider. once i understood that the great white way tends to favor heavy-set black female performers, i began to lean towards a much less conventional approach. eventually the breakthrough happened when i made the original cast in the national tour of RENT on a cattle call -- no representation, no manager, no lawyer, no nothing. but for several years before that happened, when i got here from down south and everyone pretty much ignored me, there was no work. so i developed my own ideas -- in alt-music and alt-theater. with the two one person shows that i wrote and performed, i proved that i was an originator. with the various roles in george c wolfe's "harlem song," i proved that not only could i could carry the lead in a broadway caliber musical but that i could originate work on a grander scale.

after one evening's performance, my mentor the director jeff cohen met me at the stage door. somewhere in the conversation that ensued, he said, "you'd better enjoy this moment, because this probably won't happen again for you for another 10 years." he was right, of course. downtown rags described me as an "alt-diva." casting directors said that i was "quirky." the general vibe was that i was "unconventional" -- simply put, that i wasn't the black girl that they thought i should be, the black girl that they could easily recognize from their deepest imaginings or the most innocuous media saturation or even around the way. the fact of the matter was, i was unlike anything they'd ever seen. or heard.

more often than not, my uniqueness was percieved of as a threat. why? because i wasn't behaving like a stereotype. because for some, the unfamiliar and the unknown are things to be afraid of, especially where black people are concerned -- and especially with black women. because i wasn't sitting around trying to figure out which black girl to turn myself into, to get the job. i wasn't desperate -- and to be honest, that must have made me look like an uppity negress. but because i actually am an uppity negress, i really didn't care. and i still don't.

i was just being myself. was that so wrong?


c a d e said...

"well all right then..."


daughterofthedream said...

Keep representing on behalf of Uppity Negresses everywhere -- we appreciate it!

I hope you own one of these:

queenesther said...

oh, yes! i do own an uppity negress t-shirt. i'm more than happy to be a walking billboard for the cause. evidently, we are legion. when i wear it, other uppity negresses approach me constantly. it's more than a movement. it's revolutionary.

i'm giving serious thought to calling my next cd "uppity negress" -- or at the very least, wearing the t-shirt on the cd cover.