PITTSFIELD -- In 1975, African-American playwright poet Ntozake Shange took the theater world by storm with her Obie-winning choreopoem, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf," a raw, revealing look at the lives of women of color. Now African-American and Latina girls from Shirley Edgerton’s Rites of Passage and Empowerment program (R.O.P.E.) will share their own stories in "Enuf!," a multidisciplinary production filled with words, poetry and movement inspired by Shange’s groundbreaking play.
After the recent staging of Mark St. Germain’s "The Best of Enemies," Barrington Stage Company artistic director Julianne Boyd expressed an interest in doing more Afrocentric plays, Edgerton explained.
"One of my loves from Broadway has always been ‘For Colored Girls...,’" Edgerton said. "As a college student, I absolutely related with some of their experiences."
Boyd thought it a perfect fit for the company’s award-winning education program.
Since March, 12 teenage girls have met weekly with African-American spoken word artist Nakeida Bethel-Smith and BSC’s assistant director of education, Yvette "Jamuna" Sirker, along with dancer choreographer Marla Robertson and percussionist Jerome Edgerton. A playwright and actor of Latina and east Indian heritage, Sirker moved from New Orleans to the Berkshires after Hurricane Katrina.
Using a combination of writing, theater, dance and spoken word, the young women developed the play from their own life experiences.
"We approached it with fun exercises and activities that helped them evolve as great writers," Bethel-Smith explained.
The first month was a challenge.
"First of all, you want me to write, and then you want me to write about myself and my experience?" Bethel-Smith recalled them saying. "And then you want me to say it out loud?" Sirker added, laughing at the recollection.
A turning point was when Sirker asked them what they had had enough of as a person of color in the Berkshires. "They were really tentative," she said.
"Then one person got up and shared and they all just came to life, they became electrified," she said.
"We talked a lot about what they face every day growing up in Berkshire County," Bethel-Smith said. They discussed stereotypes like hair issues, identity, and intelligence -- or lack thereof.
She knows firsthand what they are experiencing.
"As they shared," she said, "it brought back things that I experienced. It was almost like a healing process."
"You face [stereotypes] every day, it’s very subtle here," she explained. "You learn how to have confidence and go through it, and not let it distract you from your true purpose."
She recalled being excited in second grade about her brother going to college.
"The teacher said, ‘you don’t have to worry, because you don’t need to go to college.’ Of course, my mom went up there like a firecracker!"
And go to college she did.
Sirker found acting opportunities limited due to her "exotic" features.
"I got tired of being told there’s no place for me in American theater," she said. "I started writing to create a place for myself."
Shange’s play "has a very long title," Sirker said, "so I let the very last word ‘Enuf’ be symbolic of our life experiences: what we’ve had enough of, and how we are enough."
"It’s been such an experience for them in terms of writing down their feelings, their experiences as young women of color living in a predominantly white community attending predominantly white schools," Edgerton said.
"I don’t even have the words to express how important this has been for the girls and the growth that has occurred through this process," she added. "It has been a priceless experience ... a win-win for all of us."
"I’m excited that someone of [Boyd’s] caliber would take the time to be this committed and interested in the community where she is," Edgerton said.
Boyd’s commitment to Afrocentric programming goes back to her company’s very beginnings, when she presented important productions such as "Valley Song" by South African Athol Fugard. And, while living in Biloxi in the late 1960s, she directed a controversial production of Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible" with its first integrated cast in Mississippi.
"We hope the community will join with Barrington Stage Company in honoring and celebrating these girls," Boyd said, "and that they get to know more about the lives of these young women and their stories."
If You Go...
What: Barrington Stage Company and R.O.P.E. present ‘Enuf!’ directed by Dawn Monique Williams, musical direction by Jerome Edgerton
When: Sunday, Monday, 7 p.m.
Where: St. Germain Stage, Blatt Center, Pittsfield
Information: (413) 236-8888 or barringtonstageco.org