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Black Patience and the Theatre of Civil Rights

Leticia Ridley: Welcome to Daughters of Lorraine, a podcast from your friendly neighborhood, Black feminists exploring the legacies, present, and futures of Black theatre. We are your hosts, Leticia Ridley—

Jordan Ealey: And Jordan Ealey. On this podcast produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide, we discuss Black theatre history; conduct interviews with local and national Black theatre artists, scholars, and practitioners; and discuss plays by Black playwrights that have our minds buzzing.

Julius B. Fleming, Jr. earned a doctorate in English and a graduate certificate in Africana Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. Specializing in Afro-diasporic literatures and cultures, he has particular interests in performance studies, Black political culture, diaspora, and colonialism, especially where they intersect with race, gender, and sexuality. Professor Fleming is the author of Black Patience: Performance, Civil Rights and the Unfinished Project of Emancipation from NYU Press. It was shortlisted for the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present 2023 Book Prize, a finalist for the Hooks National Book Award, and honorable mention for the 2023 John W. Frick Book Award. Professor Fleming is also beginning work on a second book project that explores the new geographies of colonial expansion and their impact on Afro-diasporic literary and cultural production.

Leticia: Fleming's work appears in journals like American Literature, American Literary History, South Atlantic Quarterly, Callaloo, and the James Baldwin Review. Having served as associate editor of both Callaloo and Black Perspectives, the award-winning blog of the African American Intellectual History Society, Fleming has been awarded fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the University of Virginia's Carter G. Woodson Institute. Today, we interview Professor Fleming about his work on Black theatre and Civil Rights and what it has to offer for Black theatre and Black life.

Jordan: All right, welcome back to Daughters of Lorraine. We are now in episode four of our fourth season. Leticia, we have a really special guest today joining us.

Leticia: A really exciting guest who we both had the honor and opportunity to learn from while we were in graduate school, and we're so excited to have him on the podcast and to talk about his new book, fresh off the presses—I guess it's still fresh in academic book life—Black Patience: Performance, Civil Rights and the Unfinished Project of Emancipation. Welcome, Dr. Julius B. Fleming, Jr. to the podcast.

Julius Fleming, Jr.: Thanks. I appreciate you having me on.

Jordan: Yeah, we're really excited. As Leticia said, definitely someone that we've both had opportunity to be mentored by and learn from, and it's just an honor to be able to be in conversation with you today. And we also realized before this call that you are not our first academic, but our first time really discussing an academic text on the podcast. So we're really excited to dive in. Before we get into talking about the book itself and your research, we'd love to know, what is your relationship to theatre performance? What brought you to the study of theatre in particular? And in general, you’re a professor, you're an academic, why is academia the way that you wanted to tell stories or think about Black life?

Julius: Yeah, for sure. So yeah, before I jump into the question, I just want to say thank you to both of you for actually having me on, and hopefully I don't set a low bar for those people who will come on and talk about books. Then also, just to honestly say that whatever you learn from me, I probably learned more from both of you in my classes than you learned from me, and I'm actually teaching Black performance studies now, and I can feel the absence. Just know that you’re missed.

But in terms of how I came to theatre, it sort of was organic in a way. I wasn't a theatre kid in middle school or high school. I didn't really study theatre in college, and I was doing research for the dissertation and I was really interested in African American literature, particularly African American literature, sort of mid-twentieth century African American literature, and these questions around Black political culture, Black political aesthetics, and I thought I wanted to do a kind of project about literature during that period, broadly, and in some ways the archive drew me to theatre, which I can talk a bit more about later.

So I wasn't even trained in performance or theatre studies in graduate school, so it was sort of a lonely journey trying to by necessity of what the archive was, teach myself some of the central questions and issues and frameworks in those fields. And in terms of the academy and why it's important for telling my stories, I think that's one part of my audience. So it was a journey learning kind of academics and talking by necessity to people in the academy because I want to keep my job and get tenured, but also as a part of my storytelling practice, I'm never too far from those Black people in Mississippi that I grew up with, in those Black churches and community centers, in my grandmother's neighborhood. So they're as much, if not more, part of my storytelling practice as the kind of academic frameworks and language and grammars.

Leticia: Just a quick question, did you ever when you were younger experience what we would probably consider a Black play or Black theatre? Do you have a moment where… because I think a lot about my own entryway into theatre and the lack of seeing theatre until I was much older. In a sense, I feel like a late bloomer, so I'm just curious if you had sort of a similar experience or different experience?

Julius: Yeah, so I mean two parts I guess to this answer. One, I went to a Black Baptist church in Mississippi, so I was always in those plays. And when I was kind of aged out of the plays, I was always working with younger kids to prepare for the Easter plays, the Christmas plays, and those sorts of things. But in terms of “Theatre” with the capital “T,” I went to a kind of honors high school where you had to do performing arts. And so my track was theatre, so I was actually in Bridge to Terabithia, which was kind of my first leaning into theatre as a form, which I found really fascinating—just the preparation, but also the performance itself.

Leticia: Right, right. That's wonderful. I never knew that you had a performing past.

Jordan: You can kind of tell. I mean, you can kind of tell.

Julius: Very short list. It's good that I teach, I'm not trying to make it as an actor because I think I'd be struggling a little bit.

Jordan: Right.

Julius: I was like, “What is going on?” So we had to actually, I'm in inner city, Jackson, Mississippi, and so our theatre teachers were like, “Oh.” I was like, “I want to learn how to act in this.” And we spent a quarter of the time doing things like yoga and mindfulness exercises, and so I'm like, “Okay, I guess this is a thing.”

Jordan: Yeah, it's like, yeah, it's like you have to prepare the mind and the spirit before you use your body and all these different things. Love theatre. Woo-woo. I remember one of my friends said, “Man, in theatre, we breathe together a lot.” And I think about that all the time because I'm like, yeah, we do breathe together a lot.

In many ways, the South for me was a kind of perfect laboratory for thinking through what Blackness is sort of writ large in a modern world.

Julius: You can imagine an eighteen-year-old Black Mississippi boy doing yoga for the first time and breathing and what that experience might have been like.

Jordan: Exactly. And that's amazing. So also, one of the things that I really learned from you, Julius, when I took Black Performance with you, but just in our conversations, we bonded a lot over the fact that we're both from the South and that we are looking at things from the perspective of growing up in the South—you in Jackson, me in Atlanta. And so your work, your book Black Patience, looks at the Civil Rights Movement. And before we get into the specificity of the kind of social movement of the Civil Rights and looking at it from this perspective of theatre, I would love for you just to talk a little bit about the importance of that Black Southern perspective. It's something that is kind of missing when we talk about theatre in general, like mainstream theatre. What is the importance of centering that perspective in telling this history and telling this story?

Julius: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, thanks for that question. I think in terms of how I identify, of course, identify as Black first. A close second is as a Southern boy. That experience growing up in Mississippi was, and still is, so formative to who I am and how I moved through the world, and also how I relate to Blackness, how I ask critical questions, how I see performances and interpret performances, how I think about limits and possibilities. And so in many ways, the South for me was a kind of perfect laboratory for thinking through what Blackness is sort of writ large in a modern world.

It gets this reputation for, and I think certainly that experience has confirmed, growing up in the South, for the traumas and the difficulties of anti-Blackness, the afterlives of slavery and colonialism, all of those things. But I think also what's important is that being in the South, I learned that Black people don't reduce their being to those structures of violence, how they create Black beauty, Black joy, how mutual aid works in the belly of oppression. And so, growing up in the South really shaped my own ontological, existential sensibilities, but also how I ask my questions and sort of the possibilities and limits that I see in Blackness. And also, we can talk about this later, one of the things that motivated me to write this book was that I was not in agreement with some historians who were making these claims around the traditional Civil Rights Movement, which of course involved Black Southerners. And what they were implying, in essence, is that these Black Southerners weren't radical. I took serious issue with that.

Leticia: I think that's so profound, and I think to your introduction where you open with Fannie Lou Hamer standing up at the intermission of the Free Southern Theatre's production of Waiting for Godot and saying, “No, we can't be like these characters on stage and wait.” And I think that's such a compelling history that I didn't even realize some of our utmost Civil Rights leaders or folks that we sort of attached to the Civil Rights Movement were actually deeply connected to the theatre, either as supporters of the theatre, as in conversation with theatre, or using theatre to sort of think through some of these larger Civil Rights issues. So I was just curious about what, if you could just articulate for our listeners, what is the importance of theatre to the Civil Rights Movement? Because it's not something that when you're learning about the Civil Rights Movement, that they're like, “Oh yeah, theatre was crucial.”

Julius: Yeah, no, that's really good. So one of the things I was really interested in when I started this book, or what was then a dissertation, is the importance of genre. And so as I mentioned or alluded to earlier, I wanted to think about, what was the importance of poetry? What was the importance of the novel? What was the importance of essays by people like James Baldwin and Alice Walker to the Civil Rights Movement? In other words, there was this kind of gap in African American literary history. We went from the social protest, naturalism period of Richard Wright, and then we jumped to the Black Arts Movement. So I was interested in kind of mapping the literary front of the Civil Rights Movement, and then the archive drew me to theatre. And so I started to wonder, “Okay, why are all these Black people so interested in theatre?” And the scholarship wouldn't suggest that.

So I had to go to places like Jet and Ebony magazine and Black World and Negro Digest, and theatre was everywhere. And I think a part of it is that when kind of this revolutionary spirit is kind of brewing worldwide, it's very different or hard to be a community sitting in front of a fireplace, reading a novel or sitting on a front porch reading a novel, a four-hundred-page novel. But with a form like theatre, you can kind of stage that thing in community.

Theatre as a form invites communal relations and participation. The use of something like a talkback invites discussions and critical thinking about what you've just seen, but also about a more macro level social and political environment. But also, when I studied these plays and places like Mississippi where they were staging these radical plays and people on the lookout, they could say, “Hey, the Klan is coming,” or “Hey, the police are coming. Let's shut this thing down and clean up and get out of here and get back so that they never knew we were here.”

So there was a certain kind of political utility to theatre and expediency to theatre aesthetically that I think that the people in this era tapped into it. And I think by the time it gets to the Black Arts Movement, there's a very similar political aesthetic utility to something like performance poetry that makes it right for that political movement.

If we look at the period that I studied, the Civil Rights Movement, I think it's one of the best forms that we have to think about the nature of Black life.

Leticia: And do you have any sense of perhaps why this theatre was under-studied in relationship to the Civil Rights Movement? You said you had to go to Jet and you had to go to these other places, and it wasn't really tapped into the scholarship. And I'm just curious about if theatre itself or if you think that theatre itself was considered a form that was, even as Black people were engaging it, using it, was not seen, at least in the academic sense, as contributing to what we know as big “C,” Civil Rights Movement?

Julius: No. Yeah, I think you're right. And I think a part of it is that so often we take our cues for about what's important from the structures of power that we actively try to push against. So I think there's this kind of fetish for visual spectacle that took over the Civil Rights Movement and that television and photography, television being this kind of really new technology that was important to the Civil Rights Movement, photography being this kind of mode or form that was important to the Civil Rights Movement, and we sort of stopped there because this is kind of what the New York Times was using. This is what ABC is using, CBS.

And so I think a part of it is to ask what about those kind of infra-political or those marginal forms that Black people were using that might not have been on the news or might not have been newsworthy, but were nonetheless important to Black people's struggles and demands for freedom now. And so what I found is that from those sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta, somebody like Fannie Lou Hamer that you mentioned, to people like Duke Ellington and Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin and even Black expatriates who were not even living in the United States, they saw the value of theatre. And if we turn and see the value of theatre, then I think we can ask some of those questions about political radicalism that we sometimes don't ask in this period.

Jordan: Yeah, I love that because something that we have... Actually, when Lisa B. Thompson was on this podcast, I believe that episode is called “Black Theatre is Black Studies,” if I'm not mistaken, or this idea of putting respect on Black theatre. And something, the title of your book is Black Patience, and “Black patience” is referring to a theory that you have mobilized for us that's thinking about this relationship between time and Black life. And I'm curious if you could kind of illuminate a little bit for our listeners about this theory of Black patience and how you consider this concept of time and its relationship to both Black theatre, but also Black life writ large.

Julius: Yeah, for sure. And I think I really like where you started in terms of put some respect on Black theatre. I'll say that I didn't have that respect for Black theatre before I started this work in large part because my training didn't necessitate or kind of cultivate that respect. And so I think it was interesting. I was on Left of Black with Mark Anthony Neal, and he mentioned Lisa B. Thompson and how we were both interested in put some respect on Black theatre within Black studies. So this is just a shout-out to Lisa. Yo, if you ever want to do some collaborative stuff around Black studies and Black theatre, let's get on it. But yeah, it's an under-studied genre. It's a devalued genre. It's a kind of site of subjugated knowledge, but it has historically been one of the most accessible forms for Black people. And I think also alongside that, if we look at the period that I studied, the Civil Rights Movement, I think it's one of the best forms that we have to think about the nature of Black life.

So one of the things that I'm interested in writing about Black patience is the relationship between time and the Black plays and performances and performance organizations themselves. And so almost all of the performances that I study have these kind of short-lived lives, if you will. So I write about the Free Southern Theatre, and that theatre was not only bombed, but it also was, it died prematurely. It didn't live past a couple of decades after the Civil Rights Movement.

Or if we look at a play like James Baldwin's Blues for Mister Charlie, it was closed prematurely on Broadway; or Fly, Blackbird didn't even make it out of his Chicago previews. So we talk about these questions of time and ephemerality and disappearance and performance studies, but a part of what I want to do in the book is to say, hey, if we think about these concepts and keywords through the lens of Blackness, we have to give a different accounting of those terms.

I think a more productive accounting, it actually takes into account the social political dynamics of racial modernity. So in other words, we can't, it's like, oh wow, the play disappears and if you see a play today and go see it tomorrow, you see different things, almost this kind of celebratory critical posture. But if the disappearance is caused by a bomb or the vice squad, the police vice squad is shutting the play down because there's queer content, then we have to be a little bit less celebratory.

Leticia: You make important points when you think about the utility of Black theatre and its relationship to Black studies. And Black patience, I think is just so brilliant, especially in relationship to another concept that you offer us, Afropresentism.

Jordan: Could you talk a little bit about that idea of the Afropresent? I think that gives us an interesting understanding around, of this other ways that you're studying time or thinking, or asking Black studies and Black theatre to consider its relationship to time as well.

Julius: Yeah, for sure. So of course I was studying the Civil Rights Movement and the kind of most popular refrain during that period is freedom now. I was interested in how Black people were insisting on freedom now at the same time that President Dwight Eisenhower, president Kennedy, and his brother, Robert Kennedy, who was the attorney General, William Faulkner, everybody's telling Black people, “Just wait, be patient.” Even some Black people were invested in Black patience. Even the president of the National Ethics Convention was interested in patience until people like Martin Luther King pushed against him. So, what I realized though was that patience, and Black patience in particular, has long been a kind of call for Black people to be complacent. And how that call has always been this kind of manipulative use of Black futures to basically keep in place those structures of oppression that are kind of wreaking havoc on Black life now, and that have historically wreaked havoc on Black life.

And so then I was a little suspicious of this logic of Afrofuturism and Black futures because if we can trafficking in these kind of ideas of what Berlant calls cruel optimism, which is the kind of optimism that's cruel because those hopes and dreams often don't come to fruition, then we have to invest in a different temporal framework. That's not to say that I want to give up on the practice of Black Freedom Dreaming, but it is to say that I want to insist more like those people during the Civil Rights Movement on our freedom now. And so when we think about, for example, I often reflect back to President Obama in Charleston when those Black people were murdered by that white supremacist, and these kind of routine calls for Black people to wait and be patient and to wait for justice to be served.

And you're going to buy Burger King for the man that's shooting Black people, in parts of this country. And so wait to what end? And so I think alongside Black Freedom Dreaming, in other words, we have to invest in the now and to figure out how to live more beautiful and sustaining Black lives now and how to create better Black worlds right now.

Jordan: And we also, on our podcast this past episode, we talked about Douglas Turner Ward and his essay, “American Theatre for Whites Only,” where he says, no, we need change, or we need funding for Black theatre now.” And we kind of were like, oh yeah, we're so excited to talk to Julius because then that's going to be a connection. I'm so sorry to interrupt you, Leticia.

Leticia: No, no, no, absolutely. No need to apologize. You know how we do. I just think this is so fascinating because I'm thinking also, as you know, thinking through this idea of, if even as you said, we are in the belly of oppression, that's not the way that Black being exists always. We're not downtrodden, dragging our feet. There is something else that is alongside it all along. And I think when we think about theatre and enacting this potential future or this temporal experience of what we might say is joy, or in my case abundance, how does theatre allow us to access that in real time in ways that we may not have the opportunity in other ways? So I love what you're saying around the use of time and the functionality of theatre.

Julius: Yeah, yeah. No, and I think it's such as a form theatre is so good for that because it's like, oh, when the curtain closes, there's a certain kind of finality to that even as there might be another show tomorrow. And so it's like, invest in this whatever hour and a half or two hours this moment of the now, we don't know if the curtain's going to open again tomorrow. So I think there's something about theatre that invites a particular relation to the now that's particularly productive for Black people.

Jordan: Yeah. And what you were saying around time specifically for Black theatre is so crucial because in the last, we can just look at the last few years on Broadway, all of the Black plays that we've had, but they've closed prematurely or they haven't had their due. With Ain't No Mo', we had to have this big campaign to save it for it to achieve its full run. A Strange Loop closed before it was supposed to close. And this is a Pulitzer Prize-winning, Tony Award-winning musical, and it still was unable to finish its run on Broadway. I mean, I know it's touring now so hopefully they're able to continue to recoup whatever investments may or may not have been lost in that process.

But I just think about all of the, I mean, think what you're saying is relevant even to contemporary Black theatre and performance, but some of the play... I was so excited when I was reading your book because there's this range of theatre that is represented in your book. So you have the quote, unquote, “avant-garde,” European highbrow with Waiting for Godot, and then you have something that's more accessible and fun and entertaining like Purlie Victorious. And so I was just curious, with your discussion of genre and thinking about genre, what that teaches us also about Black Southern life and expectations around what people might be interested in. I think that's a really interesting conversation.

For example, people will talk about what Black people are and aren't interested in, Black people don't go to theatre, all these different things. So how do those genres also figure into this conversation too?

Julius: I appreciate that. And I think you're right, you put your finger on it. There's this kind of yearning to reduce Black people to a single thing, and sometimes by Black people. So I'm actually just always frankly shocked when I see any kind of totalizing claim about what Blackness is or who Black people are because Black people and Blackness escape definition. So it made total sense to me when I was writing this book that, hey, sometimes you might get a sharecropper with a sixth grade education who's in a cotton field in the Mississippi Delta rocking out to Waiting for Godot, sometimes enjoying Waiting for Godot, but other times not liking it and throwing spitballs at the stage.

And so while some people might want to kind of celebrate this pronouncement from Fannie Lou Hamer, this kind of a radical tenor and its Black feminist potential, all these kind of... Of course, I want to embrace that, but I also want embrace those Black kids who threw spitballs at the stage, or also want to think about the man next door at the shack next door, who during one of the Free Southern Theatre’s productions turned on his lawnmower so that he could drown out the sound of the performance to let the white people know that he was not on board with this radical stuff going on at the shack next door.

Or even SNCC. As much as we venerate this civil rights organization, SNCC said things like, “We don't see why they're running around here with their sets and station wagon. This is not a priority for the Civil Rights Movement.” So I think what we get in theatre is the full range, or not the full range, but some semblance of the range of Blackness, how fluid and plastic Blackness is, right? How is irreducible to any one thing. And I think to your question, particularly about form, it makes sense to me that they would go from something like Waiting for Godot to something like James Baldwin's really long Blues for Mister Charlie, and sort of how he was really fascinated with a lot of the white playwrights and what they were doing in the middle of the twentieth century.

Patience, and Black patience in particular, has long been a kind of call for Black people to be complacent.

Or someone like Duke Ellington who turns to musical theatre, who was seen as Uncle Tom and Stepin Fetchit, but was so invested in using theatre in the Civil Rights Movement, that he actually took time to build the sets himself. Or someone like Amiri Baraka who's writing about queerness. And of course, I don't expect him to produce a three act play about something that actually produces deep discomfort for him so it makes sense that he returned to the one act this kind of work. So in other words, if we hover over the kind of broad archive of Black theatre, again to your earlier question about Black studies and Black theatre, we actually get a working theory framework of working definition of what Blackness might be.

Leticia: No, yeah. I was, again, just continued to agree with you in so many facets. And I think that it's so interesting that sometimes, at least my experience in Black Studies is that sometimes we might overlook how some of the figures in which we sort of uphold as the standard or the center or important figures were integrated with theatre throughout their entire life, either as playwrights, as supporters. I think, Du Bois was a sociologist, but he was also a part of The Crisis and recruiting playwrights to submit their Black playwrights to submit their plays so it could be in The Crisis and see the functionality. He had a theatre company.

In your class, I learned that Sylvia Winter wrote plays. I think that this Black studies and Black theatre being side by side has always been present, and that relationship has been important. And I wish that we, maybe because I'm trained in theatre and performance, I'm just like, Black studies, come on, put some... Us theatre people out here, we're relatives, we're cousins. And not even play cousins. We cousins, cousins.

Julius: That's right, one hundred percent. And I think that even before the genre was formalized for us in a certain way, it was already happening in practice, even taking the plantation as a ground of Black performance, if not Black theatre, or I think back to someone like Ira Alridge. The question is, why aren't we studying this man? An early Black playwright who was already taking up these big questions of colonialism and race and questions of race and medicine and race and labor. So I think sometimes, and I'll be real with you, there's such a desire for a particular genre of Black exploitation.

So we want to write about the slave on the plantation, but we don't actually want to look at Ira Aldridge as the Black doctor. He's writing about colonialism, but through the exploitation of this man's medical knowledge. William Wells Brown writes a place similarly about the exploitation of Black people's medical knowledge. So we don't want that kind of quote, unquote “pretty” version of exploitation. We want the slave grinding on the plantation, and we have to ask questions about why we desire that particular form of exploitation.

Jordan: You said, “explored in that way,” and in the form that most people see as a colonial. I think about one of my colleagues and friends who writes about theatre in Hawaii and having to think about theatre as this colonial form, but also one that Hawaiian folks have utilized and been a part of, and how do you reconcile this crisis of genre? And I wrestle it with my own work. I write about musicals. That is probably one of the most clear forms of exploitation within theatre practice of Black people. And yet I think that your work explores that “and yet” aspect and quality of that. So yeah, in terms of just, so you have Black Patience, you have us rethinking Civil Rights Movement from the vantage point of theatre. I don't know, what's next in terms of your academic research. Where do you go from here or what is your continued research agenda have to offer?

Julius: Yeah, the million-dollar question.

Leticia: You're like, “I just wrote a book, sit with it a while.”

Jordan: I know. I know. But, you know.

Julius: Things have to be done. Yeah. The left side of my brain is like, is retirement here yet? And I look at my bank account and I'm like, okay, maybe you have to write one or two more things. It's like, I'm tired.

Leticia: Or what just interests you? What things are pulling your mind and in your thinking?

Julius: Yeah. So I'll tell you as a big thing that's occupying me right now, seriously, and I'll talk about a couple of projects that I'm working on. It's just, how do we take Black people seriously? And I know that sounds so trite and simple, but one of the things I learned from writing that first book is that Black people have often thought very critically about who they are and how they exist in the world. And they've thought critically about the nature of the world itself. And I really, as an intellectual experience, I really appreciate frameworks like Afro-fabulation and critical fabulation. My worry is that there'll be this impulsive conclusion that Black people haven't left traces of their thinking, of their being, and that we prematurely engage in a process of fabulation. Well, I think a part of what has to happen is that we have to have different points of access in Black people's past. And so a part of what Black studies might have to do is to turn to something like theatre and embodied performance as a particular repertoire, as a particular archive that we take seriously to think about the question of Black being, Black history, Black ontology. So that's been occupying my mind.

And so one of the projects, the short projects that I'm going to do is actually on the Black South to go back to the beginning of the conversation. And so I just finished this chapter about Claude McKay. And Claude McKay, of course, has always celebrated as the kind of quintessential figure of transnationalism, he gives us this paradigm of transnational mobility. And people like Gilroy have talked about the importance of the ship and the importance of the ocean. But if we look at Claude McKay's work, in almost every piece of his work, Black Southerners are left out of that Afro-diasporic transnational vision.

So in Banjo, Banjo is called an honorary member of the collective. He's not really one of them. Or in Home to Harlem, the Black Southerner has to go back to the US nation state. So all of this kind of celebratory posturing around the transnational, we have to rethink it, and we have to think about who it leaves out. And this conversation about, we need to get away from the nation, that can be a privileged position because for some people, the nation has been the site that we've had to turn to build a life and to make a world.

And so in that project, I'm interested in that question and in turning to the South. For example, we think about something like the Panama Canal, but what about all of those local rivers and lakes and other bodies of water that aren't the Atlantic or the Pacific that are actually more important to Black Southerners' lives? So that's one project.

And I have a project that's about outer space as the next leg of colonial expansion.

Leticia: Wow. I'm really excited about these projects. And I'm actually working on an article for Theatre Journal right now that's based off of, oh, what essay is it? I think it might be your Pearl Cleage essay about geography. And I'm trying to sort of think through what I'm talking about, Black theatrical geographies and contemporary African American theatre being integral in shifting the space of the theatre. So I'm also excited about these other projects that I'm like, when you said the thing about fabulation, I was like, wow, I actually never considered how we might be also engaging in violence prematurely by insinuating that Black people haven't left traces in other forms, in other ways, in things that we may not even consider holding these traces.

Julius: Yeah, because I think that that kind of logic of Black absence, Black erasure can be so pervasive that it then kind of informs our critical moves. And so it's like ideology seeps then into the frameworks and the methods that we use. Yeah. So I just think we have to ask some questions about that, especially because we know people bring so much baggage to Blackness that can then interfere with and kind of sometimes obscure what the objects really is that you're studying.

Leticia: Well, Julius, this has been a fascinating conversation. And before we close, we like to do a thing on our podcast where we leave our listeners some recommendations—articles, books, plays, films, whatever it is, whatever you want to leave for an offering for our listeners—and we would like to invite you to share anything that you would like to offer to them.

Julius: You know what I would say? I don't know which pieces you would direct them toward. One of the things that I've long been interested in is how there's not as much scholarship on contemporary Black women's performance coaches. A lot of late nineteenth, a lot of early twentieth century stuff. So I'm going to tell your audiences, go and look up Leticia and Jordan's work. I think you two are doing some of the most brilliant work on Black women's performance coaches, and I think it's an area that needs to be the next explosion in theatre and performance studies. So yeah, your audiences should go and read some of your work. They'll thank me later.

Jordan: Oh. We got to get to publishing, Leticia. Thank you so much, Julius. Your work has been instrumental both in our work as colleagues, as mentees, and it's such a pleasure to talk to you. And also helping us, and I said this because actually I had the pleasure of spending some time with Julius just last week when he was here in Rochester giving a wonderful talk. But I said it then is that not only is your work helping us to rethink this political movement from this vantage point of expressive culture, specifically theatre, but also you're helping us in Black theatre history to rethink how we characterize, teach, cite, and write about the Civil Rights Movement in relationship to Black theatre.

It's a dearth I would say that your book really fills, and it helps me to reconsider when I'm teaching something like Black theatre history, how do I think about how Black artists, how Black theatre artists in particular are engaging the Civil Rights Movement? So everyone go get Black Patience, NYU Press, and read this book. It's a much needed engagement of [the] Civil Rights Movement and Black theatre.

Julius: I really appreciate you all. Seriously. Thank you.

Leticia: This has been another episode of Daughters of Lorraine. We're your hosts, Leticia Ridley—

Jordan: And Jordan Ealey.

Leticia: On our next episode, we'll discuss Suzan-Lori Parks's Topdog/Underdog and its production at Canadian Stage.

Jordan: We have so much in store for you this season that you definitely will not want to miss. In the meantime, if you're looking to connect with us, please follow us on Twitter at D-O Lorraine pod, P-O-D. You can also email us at daughtersoflorraine@gmail.com for further contact.

Leticia: Our theme music is composed by Inza Bamba. The Daughters of Lorraine podcast is supported by HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide. It's available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and HowlRound.com. If you're looking for the podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify, you'll want to search and subscribe to “HowlRound podcasts.”

Jordan: If you loved this podcast, post a rating or write a review on those platforms. This helps other people find us. You can also find this transcript for this episode, along with a lot of other progressive and disruptive content, on howlround.com. Have an idea for an exciting podcast, essay, or TV event the theatre community needs to hear? Visit howlround.com and submit your ideas to the Commons.

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Thoughts from the curators

Hosted by two doctoral theatre students, Jordan Ealey and Leticia Ridley, Daughters' of Lorraine Podcast features reviews of Black theatre productions (mainly in the DC/Baltimore area), current national conversations around, within, and about Black theatre, academic discussions concerning Black theatre, recommendations on Black theatre scripts, and interviews with Black theatre artists. This podcast centers and privileges the narratives of Black theatremakers, scholars, and audiences while also underscoring the need for understanding the influence of Black theatre on the American theatre landscape.

Daughters of Lorraine Podcast


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