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Staging Reproductive Freedom in Black Feminist Theatre


Leticia: Yeah, undoubtedly so. And I believe you really create an ideal segue to our subsequent play, Within the Blood by Suzan-Lori Parks, that I am certain in case you are a fan, critic, or scholar of Black theatre that who Suzan-Lori Parks is.

Jordan: I do not know. Suzan-Lori Parks, she’s actually this indie playwright. I am unsure if lots of people have heard of her or actually explored her work earlier than. No, I am simply kidding. She’s clearly a legend of Black theatre. First Black girl to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. However this explicit… I am not even certain that we have really actually went into depth of one among her performs earlier than on the podcast.

Leticia: No, it is really our first time. Wow. That have to be a report.

Jordan: I do know. Yeah, I imply, we have performed all of the others—August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry. It was time. However we’ve got In The Blood by Suzan Lori Parks. Premiered on the Public Theater, New York Shakespeare Competition in November of 1999. That is actually the nineties when Suzan Lori Parks, I really feel like numerous her performs have been dealing quite a bit with, with questions round Black womanhood. As a result of Venus was what, 1996? So a few years previous to this the place she—I am not saying that there is like a linear thread between Venus and Within the Blood—however I believe that there have been questions that she had round bodily autonomy that was taking place in her thoughts that would create the situations for making one thing like Within the Blood. However Within the Blood can also be a dialog, an adaptation, a sampling, a riffing, a signifying of The Scarlet Letter.

Clearly we’re not going to rehash your entire plot of this story, however primarily all it’s worthwhile to know is that The Scarlet Letter is a couple of younger girl named Hester Prynne who, after having an affair with I imagine the Reverend of her small city, is pressured to put on a scarlet “A” on her physique to continually disgrace her for the adultery that occurred. And likewise she turns into pregnant from that additionally. So, like, one other method of publicly shaming her for what they deem her to be an impure girl, et cetera, et cetera. Simply basic patriarchy is what it’s worthwhile to get from this quick story. As an alternative of in, I do not know, what’s it, eighteenth century early America, as a substitute we’ve got Within the Blood going down within the right here and now. And clearly the characters are, properly, the character of Hester is a Black girl, and she or he has 5 youngsters. And all of them, I imagine all of them have totally different fathers.

So Leticia, inform us slightly bit about Within the Blood and I assume what you might be seeing as its contribution to our subjects for in the present day.

Leticia: Yeah. I believe very first thing I need to notice, I believe that it is actually essential that Suzan-Lori Parks locations the play within the right here and now. So it locations in a present up to date dialog. So once I was rereading the play, I used to be like, man, how would this play hit now that Roe V. Wade has been overturned? What was a number of the bigger conversations? Much like Mary Burrill’s play, we’re with a household that’s residing in poverty. For Hester and her youngsters, it is a lot worse. They do not even have a bodily house. They stay beneath a bridge. Hester is uneducated. So all through the play, we see Jabber, who’s her oldest, attempting to show her to spell. So she’s studying her letters is how Suzan-Lori Parks frames it. However she hasn’t gotten previous the letter A. Once more, hearkening again to The Scarlet Letter.

And all through the play, there is a prologue and an epilogue, and it makes use of this widespread chorus that I’ll share with you all, not in its entirety, however I believe it is actually essential to arrange the framing of how we’re understanding Hester and on this dialog of reproductive freedom that I believe is admittedly central to understanding Within the Blood. And it goes, “There she is. Who does she assume she is? The nerve that some folks have. Should not have it if you cannot afford it. And she will be able to’t. She do not bought no talent, ‘cept one. Simply plain silly, should you ask me. Ain’t no sensible girl bought 5 bastards and never a penny to her title. One thing’s bought to be performed to cease this type of factor, as a result of I will be damned if she going to stay off me.”

And once more, that is an abbreviated model of a for much longer prologue and epilogue, however I believe it frames this dialog of, one, that this refrain of individuals—it simply says all within the script—this refrain of individuals, one, is framing Hester as having all these youngsters as an issue, framing her as somebody who resides off of the social techniques that exist, AKA Welfare, which is a personality within the play, and that their tax paying cash goes to supporting her need to have intercourse with a number of folks. After which three, that one thing have to be performed about this unfastened girl Hester. And that is the place we get into I believe longer legacies of sterilization of Black ladies from having youngsters, of hysterectomies, pressured hysterectomies. And I believe what Suzan-Lori Parks does brilliantly on this dialog is that she implicates each different character, not the kids, however each different character.

So we’ve got the physician who’s like, I am recommending to your caseworker that you simply get a hysterectomy. We now have the Reverend who’s the daddy of her youngest youngster who’s rising in his pastoral profession about to construct him a church, however he does not need to assist his youngster with youngster assist although he is preaching this gospel of like we have to assist these which are in want. On the similar time, he is type of like—

Jordan: The deadbeat dad.

Leticia: Yeah, he is a deadbeat dad, after which additionally asking for sexual favors from Hester nonetheless. Then we’ve got the Welfare who chastises Hester for residing on the streets, saying that they are offering providers to her however she’s not really benefiting from them, or “You’ll be able to go to this shelter,” and she or he’s like, properly I am going to the shelter and my youngsters get touched. There is a stage, it is both, do my youngsters get sexually assaulted on the shelter or can we stay beneath the bridge the place I do know that is not going to be a problem? Additionally, the welfare woman who’s a Black woman finally ends up having a threesome with Hester and her husband. Additionally, the physician additionally prior had intercourse with Hester. So all of those characters have had intercourse with Hester.

After which we lastly have Chili, which is Jabber’s father, who’s the oldest youngster of Hester, who comes again. His complete story is he is coming again to search out his old flame and his youngster, and really actually do proper by Hester. However after discovering that she has had 4 different youngsters decides that, wait a minute, I did not join this. I am backing out. Once more, we see this conversations of being like, oh, the Welfare has my title to allow them to garnish my wages? Oh, they ain’t going to search out me. I modified my title. This type of like distancing from any duty. And this drives Hester mad to a sure extent the place she finally ends up killing Jabber her oldest, will get imprisoned, after which on the finish of the play is pressured to have a hysterectomy.

Jordan: I imagine she’s additionally, I am unsure if it is specified, however she’s incarcerated throughout that point proper? And so I believe that additionally speaks to that bigger legacy of pressured sterilization particularly for girls of colour who’re incarcerated, particularly Black and Indigenous ladies. In order that wrestles with that basically, actually powerful historical past as properly. I additionally need to notice that too, she has a pal Amiga Gringa, which I imagine, I do not know Spanish, however I am fairly certain that simply means “white pal.”

Leticia: This character is white. She mentions it as a result of her complete factor with Hester is that she desires her to make a intercourse tape along with her in order that they will make some huge cash. Yeah.

Jordan: Proper. Precisely. The literal title. Amiga Gringa.

Leticia: One factor that Suzan-Lori Parks would do is offer you a really literal that means of one thing to be like, I simply need to let that I am being very clear about who that is.

Jordan: Like once I was studying that, I used to be like, not Amiga Gringa, that is hilarious. However what I believe additionally, one thing that’s so, so attention-grabbing is the ways in which, such as you mentioned, Suzan Lori Parks implicates everyone within the narrative. Each single individual has failed Hester all through this complete play in many alternative methods. Individuals who ought to have been serving to her, like Welfare. Welfare needs to be serving to her. This can be a social security internet put in place, however as a substitute screws her. Like actually, but in addition figuratively. And with the Reverend, she’s alleged to be, Suzan-Lori Parks is indicting non secular indoctrination right here, the place it is like, you are alleged to be a Christian. You are alleged to be giving and beneficiant. And such as you mentioned, he’s on the surface projecting this picture and possibly even does some charity work by means of his ministry.

However like personally and privately, he’s completely benefiting from this girl who’s in a really, extraordinarily precarious place. Oftentimes, the characters are additionally referring to love how titillated they’re by Hester. That’s such a repeated thought round this girl your entire time. It is identical to I do know I should not, as a result of she’s disgusting, however I simply cannot assist myself as a result of I am simply so… And it is identical to this concept that she is accessible to everyone. And I believe Suzan-Lori Parks can also be once more pointing to a bigger historical past of how Black ladies are learn as at all times sexually obtainable to folks, it doesn’t matter what.

And I do assume it is attention-grabbing that Welfare can also be represented as a Black girl. What did you make of that? Clearly, we have learn this play so many occasions, however that at all times stops me in my tracks once I do not forget that Welfare is meant to be a Black girl.

Leticia: Yeah. I am talking in draft, however I believe that it implicates Black ladies who work for social techniques. And significantly, I believe it creates a category dialog, as a result of welfare has this, as my grandma would say, good authorities job. That it has a pension, your healthcare, permits her to stay considerably a snug way of life. And in her monologue the place she’s speaking about her relationship with Hester, she retains mentioning, however I am a spouse, however I am a spouse. And I believe that is how she sees the distinction between Hester and her. And that class place of being like, properly that may be a explicit Black girl that’s dangerous to the notion of Black ladies. Despite the fact that, such as you mentioned, she’s additionally somebody who’s very titillated by Hester. And her sexual and encounter along with her is one thing that she fondly remembers. And was like, properly, it solely occurred as soon as, however she completely loved it alongside her husband.

So I believe it is meant to create a category dialog about reproductive freedom, about Black ladies’s positions on a category line on this situation probably. And take into consideration how possibly center class ladies frown upon or look down upon Black ladies who’re poor. And I consider like Cathy Cohen’s politics of deviance. And I believe Hester very a lot might be learn by means of that prism of… I’m utilizing my physique, my bodily physique to have intercourse with these folks, one, as a result of I even have some type of affection in the direction of a few of these folks, AKA Chili, her old flame, that type of like perpetuated this cycle as a result of he disappeared on her.

However then it turns into this financial instrument for her, or so she thinks, that may create a greater life for herself and her youngsters. So I need to guarantee that we’re not framing Hester as somebody who’s deviant for deviance’s sake, however really utilizing it as a political system to have some mobility inside her life. And likewise to say that does not imply that we must always look down at Hester for having any sexual urge for food in any respect. And I believe that Suzan-Lori Parks may be very clear that we’re not going to disgrace Hester for eager to have intercourse.

Jordan: Proper. And that is one other factor. Oftentimes, when folks speak about low-income or poor folks, there’s a lack of… there’s understandings inside like center class, higher class, and wealthy folks that poor individuals are not allowed to take pleasure in something. And that may be intercourse, however that can be different materials objects. The horrible conversations you see on Twitter of like, oh, “why is that this poor individual shopping for tennis sneakers? Or why is that this poor individual utilizing their EBT card to get a steak?” No matter it is perhaps, there’s this concept that poor individuals are not allowed to expertise pleasure. And so, Suzan-Lori Parks creates not identical to a blanket political commentary round welfare techniques and the dearth of social security nets, but in addition round a Black girl who, yeah, she’s a mom and sure, she is impoverished.

And sure, she is extraordinarily down on life due to the circumstances which have been created. But in addition she likes to have intercourse and she or he does have intercourse, and she is going to. And she will be able to expertise concurrently this pleasure and this need whereas additionally understanding that her positionality is stopping her from accessing primary life wants. Prefer it’s not a binary dialog. She’s this, so she does not get to do that; and she or he’s that, so she does not get to do this. However reasonably it is each. And I additionally needed to level out too, in these repeated chorus that you simply learn originally too, after they say should not have had any if you cannot afford them. So it is a repeated factor that occurs additionally after we speak about reproductive justice is like, properly, if you cannot afford to have a child, then you definately should not be having infants.

And whereas I perceive that the monetary elevate of getting youngsters is a actuality, and that’s typically a cause why folks might select to finish their pregnancies or might select to not be mother and father or what have you ever, nevertheless it does slide into like eugenics slightly bit when it is like, “Should you’re poor, then you definately should not have the ability to have youngsters.” And that may be a very, like I mentioned, eugenics level that’s introduced up and is a part of the rationale why too somebody like Margaret Sanger is a determine that has a really advanced historical past with regards to Black communities due to her views on eugenics and who ought to and should not have the ability to have youngsters. That is like when her views bought to method excessive factors.

However I say all that to say is that Suzan-Lori Parks creates this actually nuanced image round—it is horrifying, like so many issues that occur on this play are horrifying—nevertheless it’s additionally extraordinarily nuanced image across the seek for bodily autonomy from Hester all through the play. And in the end, we see her succumbing to the system due to what it has created for her. However what we do get is like, I do not know, created this like sympathetic journey that we get on is like at each flip, this girl has failed by actually everybody round her and apart from her youngsters.

Leticia: Completely, completely. Completely failed by everybody round her in addition to her youngsters, who’re additionally struggling all through the play. I believe if I do know something from my very own lived expertise it’s that social techniques for poor and dealing class individuals are inadequate in really caring for them. I believe Suzan-Lori Parks actually captures all these items in place for Hester to be taken care of is definitely simply one other dangerous solution to remind her that she is lower than within the eyes of the state and to the many individuals round her.

When that occurs, it leads us to consider Kia Corthron’s Come Down Burning. So if these social techniques are in place and so they proceed to fail us, what occurs when a group or a household takes reproductive well being and freedom in their very own fingers and, one, each of the liberatory potentialities of it, but in addition the potential hurt that may come from an in-home abortion due to the dearth of sources and entry.

Earlier than we bounce into this play, Come Down Burning by Kia Corthron, I simply need to say the primary time I learn this play, Jordan, you have been there. It was in a category with our advisor, Dr. Faedra Chatard Carpenter and we have been in Modern Black Drama class. And also you, me, and Faedra all began crying as a result of whereas this play is like deeply unhappy, however simply additionally deeply lovely and shifting the way in which that these ladies take care of one another and the way in which the play ends. And it has one among my favourite strains of all time of like “You carried me, you carried me good. It was clean experience. Did not really feel one bump.” However once more, you all do not know what which means if you have not learn the play. So Jordan, are you able to give us a short perception into Come Down Burning?

Jordan: Sure. Kia Corthron additionally, we predict she is a vastly understudied and underproduced playwright. So one, any inventive administrators, literary managers, educators, anybody who’s listening to this: please produce every little thing Kia Corthron’s ever written. Thanks. Secondly, this play, what was introduced initially in January of 1993 as part of a workshop manufacturing at Lengthy Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. So the play is ready in Appalachia. So Skoolie and Tee are sisters. Skoolie is bodily disabled, however she doesn’t have a wheelchair. She as a substitute has a makeshift cart that she makes use of to have the ability to roll herself round. Skoolie additionally lives on a mountain. So as a result of she doesn’t have use of her legs, she can not comfortably stand up and down the mountain. So she is just about confined to this geographic area. Her sister Tee is a mom of, what number of youngsters does Tee have? Two youngsters proper? Two youngsters I imagine.

Leticia: Three youngsters which are residing, two youngsters that had handed.

Jordan: So Tee is a mom to a number of youngsters. She’s additionally at the moment pregnant once more and isn’t essentially in touch with any of the kids’s fathers. Skoolie along with being the sort of assist to Tee’s youngsters, Skoolie can also be the group’s abortion supplier. So she offers in-home abortions to of us locally who want them as a result of they, once more, as a result of they stay in a mountain, there’s not a Deliberate Parenthood on the mountain. So they do not have that sort of entry to that care that they want. Bink, who is without doubt one of the characters of the play is Skoolie’s I imagine childhood pal, additionally requests an abortion from her, et cetera, cetera. So one other main character within the play is Tee’s daughter, Evie. Evie is struggling in school as a result of her trainer’s racist. Her trainer is racist and is treating Evie badly.

Evie tells Skoolie and Tee about it. And Tee goes down there with the intention of having the ability to deal with the state of affairs, however is unable to actually management it. And Evie remains to be receiving this sort of abuse from her trainer. Skoolie is like, properly, possibly if I am going down there and I can speak to her, and that is the place that stunning line that Leticia shared on the prime of this section is available in is the place Tee really volunteers to hold Skoolie down the mountain to the varsity in order that Skoolie can speak to Evie’s trainer. And extra issues transpire inside the play. However finally Tee, as a result of she figures that she’s unable to care for one more youngster, really elects to present herself an house abortion, as a result of she does not need to must rely upon Skoolie for every little thing anymore as she has been your entire time.

And so she’s like, look, I can do that one factor. I can do it. Due to her, I assume, inexperience with having the ability to present this service, she really succumbs to her accidents, or what occurs on this botched abortion. On the finish of the play, we get that stunning second between Skoolie and Tee, the place Skoolie remarks that Tee carrying her down the mountain was the smoothest experience. There was no bumps.

And truthfully, we identical to, sure, we need to speak about reproductive, how this play talks about reproductive healthcare, however simply the love between these ladies on this play is such a driving level for why this play works so properly since you do not simply get the… I’ve watched so many movies of Kia Corthron speaking about how a lot analysis she places into her performs. She considers herself to be a political playwright. And should you learn her different works, you’ll undoubtedly see that. And she or he does all this analysis and all of those details, however what theatre does so properly is that it pulls at your coronary heart, and also you get all of these items about healthcare and reproductive justice and freedom. However you additionally simply get this lovely play about household and sisterhood and motherhood. It is simply lovely.

Leticia: Yeah, completely lovely. And I believe we’ve got one, what we do not get maybe in Within the Blood and in Mary Burrill’s play, is the connection between incapacity rights and reproductive rights as like interconnected. Skoolie, who doesn’t have use of her legs as a result of she had an accident when she was a younger youngster the place she fell out of a tree with Bink. Bink was effective, however she turned paralyzed after which she needed to be taught to navigate. They’re additionally poor, working class. So this isn’t a household that essentially has like some huge cash to afford a wheelchair. And I believe even Skoolie refrains at one level, like, I do not desire a wheelchair. I am good with my cart. The set is described, just like the fridge, the range, which is definitely actually only a scorching plate. It is all on the ground stage.



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