Race and Body Image Take Center Stage for Drama and Dance Season

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On the eve of “Real Women Have Curves,” five drama and dance students are going through their final rehearsal. Before they hit the stage, they are getting their cues from director LyaNisha Gonzalez, C’2000. “It’s very important to plant yourself; if you’re seeing someone’s head, move and find your light,” she said. “You have great energy, but you’re making 100 dresses a week, spending almost 24 hours in a hot dress factory. Make your audience get this sense of oppression.”

From left to right: Jakel Osborne, Laila Lloyd, Bria Henderson, Allyson Brown, and Maya Prentiss

“Real Women Have Curves,” a stage play by Josefina Lopez, launches the official season for the drama and dance department. Set in a diminutive sewing factory in 1987 East Los Angeles, the play is a comedy that features five “full-figured” Mexican-American women and their gender and race political experiences. The play, which runs Nov. 1-4, also elucidates the department’s seasonal theme to address issues dealing with identity.

“We are proud to say that this season we are dealing with the self-image of women, and we really want to definitely focus on the image of women following ‘Fighting for the Title,’” said Eddie Bradley, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of drama and dance. “I think that everyone will be really pleased and amazed that we have two great shows that are going to deal with how women view themselves and self-esteem.”

While “Fighting for the Title” debuted Oct. 4-7 and technically was the department season kickoff, it did not feature Spelman students nor included involvement of faculty members. However, Dr. Bradley explained that guest artist performances are always a welcomed delight. Written, directed and performed by Delores Burgess, “Fighting for the Title” is a healing musical that takes us through the journey of Burgess’ traumatic battle with breast cancer. Arriving at the College somewhat serendipitously, “Fighting” simply complemented the department’s plays and helped set the framework for the season.

LyaNisha Gonzalez

Sitting in the Director’s Chair
When Gonzalez was a sophomore drama and dance major, “Real Women Have Curves” was performed at the College, and left a lasting impression on her. Once the department began discussing works for this season, “Real Women” popped into Gonzalez’ head.

“I wanted to be able to include different body types on the stage – something that is representative of a women’s college,” said Gonzalez, who received her master’s of fine art from the Actors Studio Drama School in New York. “We wanted to make sure that actresses who are capable get an opportunity to talk about a topical issue that women are always going to be dealing with in this industry – the European style of beauty.”

Gonzalez is directing Bria Henderson, playing Estela, the dress shop owner; Maya Prentiss, playing Ana, the young feminist and recent high school graduate; Jakel Osborne, playing Rosali, the fight mediator and constant dieter; Kourtney McLaughlin, playing Pancha, a smart, sassy “huge woman;” Laila Lloyd, playing Carmen, the oldest woman and mother of Estela and Ana; and Allyson Brown, understudy to Ana.

Playing the primary protagonist, Prentiss stresses that while this is a play about Latina women it has a universal story. “Women all over the world experience some of the same problems, whether it is discrimination because of their gender or the fact that they are forced to conform to their society’s set gender roles,” said the sophomore starring in her first play. “At the end of the play, Ana reminisces about her experience working with the women and she says: ‘The greatest thing I learned from [the women] is that women are powerful, especially when working together.’ This is certainly evident when I think about my time here at Spelman and experience being a part of the Spelman sisterhood.”

Mash Up Turns the Classics Upside Down
Taking a classic story like “To Kill a Mocking Bird” and literally flipping the script, instructor Kenneth Green urbanizes this Depression-era story of prejudice and injustice. His effort presents the revised courthouse scene with five Black women jurors, Atticus as a Black man, and Tom Robinson as a White man.
“‘Mash’ deconstructs classic works such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or ‘Richard III’ by putting a spin on the text and characters,” said Green, who will present the scenes in short vignettes that will feature a professional actor or actress with students. “In this global community, I wanted to bring a different voice to stories and situations that have not really changed over time.” “Mash Up!” runs Feb. 14-17, 2013.

It’s ‘The Shape of Things’   
When professor Marion Wright attended an American College Theatre Festival in Daytona Beach, Fla., in February, she saw two actors perform a scene from a play called “Fat Pig.” The scene featured a handsome, popular gentleman striking up a conversation with an awkward, insecure, and overweight young lady.

“As I watched the scene, I thought to myself, we don’t often see that story onstage. As a woman who’s fought obesity her entire life, I felt compelled to find out the rest of the story,” said Wright, who will direct “The Shape of Things” by Neil LaBute in April. “As I researched ‘Fat Pig,’ I found that contemporary playwright Neil LaBute had written, amongst many other things, a series of three commonly referred to as ‘The Beauty Trilogy.’ Each of the three plays – ‘The Shape of Things,’ ‘Fat Pig,’ and ‘reasons to be pretty,’ – deals with society’s fixation and internal struggles with physical appearance.” The cast will comprise two women and two men, and there will be an artistic and production crew of eight to 10 students. Casting begins Nov. 28, and the show runs April 4-7, 2013.

Other Works
In addition to the plays, professor T. Lang will present two dance performances. She will direct the Spelman College Dance Theatre Nov. 15 – 18, 2012, and April 18-24, 2013. Returning from their award-winning season, the Dance Theatre will be delivering flawlessly constructed and technically executed soulful works choreographed by Spelman’s celebrated dance faculty and guest artists.

All performances begin at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday, and will take place in the John D. Rockefeller Fine Arts Building, unless otherwise noted. They are free and open to the public. For more information, call 404-270-5480. – Renita Mathis is director of Interactive Communications and associate director for the Office of Communications at Spelman College.

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