Thanks for having me: A reflection on my seat at the table

OPINION: Amara Granderson, who played the Lady in Orange in the Broadway revival of ‘for colored girls…,’ offers a token of gratitude to the theater world even though her show’s run was cut short by the global pandemic.

(L to R): Tendayi Kuumba (Lady in Brown), Kenita R. Miller (Lady in Red), Okwui Okpokwasili (Lady in Green), Amara Granderson (Lady in Orange), Alexandria Wailes (Lady in Purple), Stacey Sargeant (Lady in Blue), D. Woods (Lady in Yellow) in “for colored girls…” (Photo by Marc J. Franklin)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Remember when Girlfriends abruptly ended in 2008? Neither did I, because I wasn’t grown enough to be an avid Girlfriends watcher at the time. But retrospectively, I remember. To the viewer, the ending seemed abrupt but circumstantially justifiable—“because of the times.”

Whether it be a writers’ strike or a global pandemic, a national cultural reset always seems to upend the powerless and their sense of stability. In the eye of a cultural reset, it has been my most profound honor to harness power through the establishment of community and the appraisal of the true meaning of resiliency through performing in Broadway’s only choreopoem—for colored girls… in layman’s terms—Omigod, you guys, I made it on Broadway for a hot second with my new best friends.

Theater has elevated and brought an indescribable clarity to my life that has not been possible through any other medium. One of the many privileges of being a native New Yorker with a degree of class privilege is that I was able to grow up witnessing the magic of a story told on Broadway.

If there’s one thing Broadway does miraculously every time is to tell the story of an underdog. In middle school, I saw Legally Blonde The Musical and wore out the soundtrack, attempting that iconic Laura Bell Bundy belt at the end of “So Much Better.” She was so much better than before because she had applied herself of her own accord when no one else believed she could—save Warner Huntington III.

In high school, I saw How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and I learned the “Brotherhood of Man” choreo, which—IYKYK— is the number that punctuates a show that chronicles an unqualified white man’s journey finessing his way to the top. I found this piece riveting because it removes the element of power from the power structure.

All bets were off when I saw the Diane Paulus revival of Hair three times at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. For as long as I have cognizance, I will never forget Sasha Allen as Dionne ethereally swaying downstage center, melodically crooning “Aquarius” at the top of the show.

“It is possible,” I learned. And I thank Sasha Allen for that epiphany. The realization that a Black woman could exist freely on a Broadway stage, commanding a space and asserting a power with such ease and peace. When the moon was in the seventh house, she wasn’t “supporting,” she wasn’t a background extra, she wasn’t the help, she wasn’t enslaved—she was The Moment: effervescence embodied in the Black female form.

(L to R): Tendayi Kuumba (Lady in Brown), Kenita R. Miller (Lady in Red), Amara Granderson (Lady in Orange), Okwui Okpokwasili (Lady in Green), D. Woods (Lady in Yellow), Alexandria Wailes (Lady in Purple) in “for colored girls…” (Photo by Marc J. Franklin)

By “Let the Sunshine In” at curtain call, you had better believe I made my way to the stage of the Hirschfeld to sing alongside the cast each time. Unfortunately, that sort of fourth-wall-breaking communion couldn’t happen in today’s climate, but it granted me the clarity that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be on stage, facing a crowd and blinding lights, giving my all to bring an underdog’s story to life.

In one of the opening lines of our choreopoem, Ntozake Shange demands that “somebody, anybody, sing a Black girl’s song.” Advocacy for the Black woman was not active when for colored girls premiered in 1976, nor is it in 2022. In a post-June 2020 era of social media, it’s stylish to don the facade of advocacy without enacting it. The cultural insidiousness of the erasure of the Black woman only comes as a shock to those who do not empathize. During interviews, I’d often be asked about our show’s “relevancy” in 2022 or lack thereof. I found this question to be curious, seeing as I viewed myself as invisible for so long.

Ever since being properly introduced to for colored girls… in college, playing Lady in Red at the time, I had a profound realization: I was not able to live intentionally until I had my community. A community comprised of us. My sense of purpose came from the understanding of Ubuntu—I am because we are. The sense of self I was attempting to find within power structures would never be found. The real journey was that of “finding God in myself and loving her fiercely,” as Ntozake Shange writes as one of the culminating lines of our choreopoem. If you had told me that I would get to be in for colored girls again, but this time on Broadway as Lady in Orange, I’d say you were sorely mistaken. When you’re placed at the bottom of the power structure, you’re expected to dream small.

If you had told any of the seven of us who hold space for each other on stage each night that the run of our show would ostensibly equate to the duration of our rehearsal process, we’d tell you that you were sorely mistaken. Surely audiences need the artistically crafted and clearly articulated message of community now more than ever? Surely if I can relate to Elle Woods and the corporate Brotherhood of Man, then audiences can relate to our rainbow? Surely the invaluable exchange of purpose and pride between cast and audience is palpable enough to fill a house? Perhaps not. Because of the times, the ending must be abrupt. The power structure teaches us that circumstantially, anything is justifiable.

I’ll never know why the pandemic had to target the only choreopoem on Broadway or why the 2008 writers’ strike had to cancel Girlfriends. No harm, no foul, I suppose. Cry because it happened, laugh because it happened, feel because it happened. Acknowledge that it’s over, and in the words of Ntozake Shange, “keep right on steppin’.”

Amara Granderson is a Brooklyn native thrilled to be making her Broadway debut in “for colored girls…” Her training includes an MFA from U.C. San Diego and a BA degree from Oberlin College. Some of her previous theater credits include Fly at La Jolla Playhouse, Romeo ‘n’ Juliet with Classical Theatre of Harlem and Stick Fly (Intiman Theater). Past television work includes working under the direction of acclaimed filmmaker Chloe Zhao in a Ford commercial.

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