MT. PLEASANT — Seven women of color from Iowa Wesleyan University are bringing Ntozake Shange’s “For Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” to the University Chapel stage on Feb. 26 and Feb. 27.
The production is a part of the campus’ celebration of Black History Month and features Sheila Payne, a staff member of the university, and students Taylor Payne, Desmonica Huffman, Tahnia Love, Symphony Cooper, Sherell Kent and Taylor Powell.
Director David Wendt, said he has been looking to put on a production of Shange’s piece for nearly 30 years, but had never been at a campus with enough actors of color interested to do it until he got to IW. He was attracted to the piece because of its authenticity and its discussion of relationships.
“I think she wrote very realistically that women of color had at that time and still have to some degree,” he said, “It’s thought provoking and all women can identify with many of the situations, and many that men can identify with as well. Many people have been cheated on, many people have been treated badly in relationships.”
First written in the mid-1970s and later performed on Broadway, the choreopoem departs from the traditional stage production, focusing heavily on monologues and touches on subjects such as infidelity, AIDS and mental health. Before her death, Shange rewrote and updated parts of the piece in 2010, which is the version that will be performed at the chapel.
Kent, a freshman who plays Lady in Green, said she decided to be part of the production because she wanted the community to understand “the experience of a black person.”
“They don’t know anything about it so it’s nice to have the community come out and see colored girls do a show for them,” Kent said.
The freshman said playing Lady in Green has been very powerful because the character is striving to be cherished and understood for her worth.
“As black girls, we get taken advantage of, they take us for granted, all the time. This is not just for me, it’s for colored girls,” she added
Cooper, who portrays Lady in Purple, said she feels putting on the production is important because it not only breaks down the stereotype of the “angry black woman,” but may also allow others in the community to feel less alone in their struggles.
“We are giving people role models to look at and realize people are going through these things too, especially people who look like us. We all relate to our characters in some sort of way. I feel other people can as well. Being African American girls, our emotions seem a little different and it’s something that we are able to portray in this production,” she explained, “There’s this portrayal of us being angry, This play shows the reasons we’re angry and you see the different angles because each character goes through different things but we’re all feeling the same way.”
Powell, who plays Lady in Orange, added that she feels the play will particularly resonate with black women because of its portrayal and discussion of the specific societal pressures black women face.
“I think every woman can relate to the characters but I feel it was made specifically for black women because of all the pressures and things that we deal with from society. We can’t be weak, we can’t cry. We got to be the backbone, not only for ourselves but for our black man, our black kids. We got to do it all, we got to be superheroes. It’s a deeper thing for us being black,” she said.
“For Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” will be on the University Chapel stage next Wednesday and Thursday evening, starting at 7:30 p.m. The performances are free and open to the public. Following the production, IW nursing students will be facilitating a discussion about mental health issues and services. The production touches on mature themes and includes strong language and is not encouraged for individuals under the age of 18.