For the next two evenings, Wish Theater will feature "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf," a show written by Ntozake Shange in 1975 and nominated for a Tony Award in 1977.
The show consists of 21 poems interspersed with music and dance, and has often been called a "choreopoem" rather than a play.
This alternative category of performance is precisely what prompted director Liz Gary '11 to stage the piece.
Gary, an English and theater coordinate major, spent last semester conducting an independent study in modern drama with Associate Professor of Theater and Dance Roger Bechtel. When a friend brought "For Colored Girls" to her attention, she immediately fell in love with it and wanted to bring the choreopoem to life at Bowdoin.
Gary took Theater 305 in order to receive feedback from other students on her directing. Meanwhile, director Tyler Perry released a film version of "For Colored Girls"—a somewhat frustrating development for Gary.
Although grateful for the spotlight shining once again on Shange's poetry, Gary "didn't want people to think I didn't fall in love with it on my own time."
In addition, Gary had mixed feelings about the problems of "interfusing poetry with normal movie dialogue" often leading to "jarring transitions."
"It's poetry more powerful than a film can make it," said Gary of the choreopoem, written by a black woman on the other side of a harrowing emotional journey.
"Ntozake Shange was married as a freshman in college and divorced by sophomore year...she went through so much struggle with divorce that she attempted suicide many times" until she "latched onto this idea of independence," said Gary.
"For Colored Girls" is inspired by the struggles of Shange's own life. Yet, it combines real life stories that "not only colored women hold inside," Gary said.
The poems urge the audience to "speak up and let it all go," a universal message that imparts "all the pain and suffering of life," she added.
These confessional poems deal with a range of topics, such as unsatisfying relationships, abortion and domestic violence.
For many of the performers in Gary's play, it was their first time acting in such a production.
Gary said she was pleased to offer the opportunity for them to "embody who they are naturally."
"I think it's special because it gives people an opportunity to act in something that is meant for them," said stage manager Loryn Fridie '11.
RaiNesha Miller '13, an actress in the play, elaborated on the potential positive effects of this play on the Bowdoin community.
"It's so real, it evokes raw emotions," said Miller. "Everybody [here] is so concerned with work and school we don't really get a chance to feel or reflect."
"This play is very emotional, [and] forces you to reflect not only on the lives of those around you, but your own life," she said.
Yaritza Peña '11 had never acted in a speaking role before, and has been struck by the accuracy of Shange's poetry. Both Peña and Anissa Tanksley '14 cited the poem "Somebody Almost Walked off Wid All My Stuff" as particularly poignant.
Peña and Tanksley explain that the poem is from one woman speaking to all men about the pain of unreciprocated love.
The actresses felt that the idea of "putting your all into anything," with the risk of not getting it back, is universal.
"As personal as it is, it's still really humorous; she does a great job portraying the exact emotion," said Peña. "I think it's different for something like this to be performed at Bowdoin."
"Bowdoin doesn't really put on too many plays about experiences," said Jasmine Young '13, another member of the play's cast. "The one [poem] I relate to most is 'I Used to Live in The World.'"
"When I am home, I am glad when I go unnoticed," said Young. "The guys are rude to you, shout things out if you don't give them your number. I'm like, 'If I'm such an ugly b*tch, why did you want my number in the first place?'"
"This poem is a journey for anyone experiencing it, once it's done you leave it and move on," said Gary. "Performers leave knowing they can accept themselves and love their own beauty."
Fridie added that the message of the play is embodied in the line that states: "I found God in myself and I loved her, I loved her fiercely."
"This is the story of life—accept what you cannot change, only then will you reach the end of your rainbow," Gary said.
"For Colored Girls" will be performed tonight at 9 p.m. and tomorrow night at 7 p.m. in Wish Theater. It is free and open to the public.