With the semester in full swing, Southeastern’s theatre department is busy casting, rehearsing and performing. Its latest play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, is both moving and the first of its kind—with director Sarah Balli making the waves.
Balli, a 22-year-old graduating art major is both an advocate for feminism and artistry, and she successfully brought both to life on stage this past week.
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf is a choreopoem written by Ntozake Shange in the 1960s. The term “choreopoem” was created by Shange for this piece to describe a series of poetic monologues intertwined with music and dance. This choreopoem is set in an abstract world crafted with a playful 1960s eye and follows an African-American woman as she explores different facets of herself. Through music, dance and female friendship, she emerges a stronger person.
For Balli, directing a main stage play at an undergraduate level was no easy task. Proving her place in the theatre through determination and hard work, she managed to earn the directing position to fulfill her senior project requirement. Balli is set to graduate this December with her bachelor of arts degree.
“I want to pursue directing professionally and earn my MFA in directing. I knew I wanted to direct a main stage production as my senior project, since art majors don’t have senior theses, but senior projects,” Balli said. “My goal was to defend something I was completely passionate about. I went to my professors, both in art and theatre, to talk about this passion of mine and cultivate something big and meaningful.”
With her best interest in mind, her professors worked with her to bring this proposal to life.
“I could not just pick any play. I had to create a list of plays and present it to my mentors,” she said. “I knew right off the bat, as a female artist, feminist and supporter of the arts, I wanted to put women on stage as much as possible. So, I chose to direct a play written by a female playwright. Then I began my research and narrowed it down even more by choosing a female playwright of a different race than me. The list was created and reviewed and this play was the one that was chosen.”
Balli was homeschooled all throughout grammar and high school. Until her spring semester of sophomore year, she had never stepped foot into a theatre. Quickly and without surprise, her love of theatrical arts grew, and she knew she had found her passion.
“I actually did not get involved with the theatre department here at Southeastern until my junior year, so I have had to work my way up in a very short amount of time. I assistant directed every chance that I have gotten,” Balli said.
By playing an active part in the theatre department and studying abroad last July, Balli proved her unwavering dedication and passion to her professors.
“Starting out, I knew I had to earn my place in the theatre,” she said. “Truly, this is my passion. Ultimately, I want to become a professional director of live theatre. However, with the experience of directing and designing that I have, I can be a jack of all trades, but I want to keep learning. I want to study abroad more and see the world out there.”
To compliment her directing passion, Balli is a strong supporter of the feminist movement and women’s equality. Her first directing job offered her the perfect blend of experience and advocacy.
“I intend to direct more plays written by not only female playwrights, but more female playwrights of other races,” she said. “It is my ultimate goal to understand their stories, and not just hear them.”
The play discussed themes and issues relevant to black women in the 1960s, but also black women today. Throughout the play process, Balli learned more than she could ever imagine, from directing to African-American history.
“I learned something new every rehearsal. The biggest thing I have learned is from the research that I have done of African American history in America, and black women all throughout society,” Balli said. “Almost all of the poem the playwright writes is autobiographical. I went into the first read-through and I had all of this historical knowledge, but then I got to know my cast and learn about their own personal struggles. I knew the background, but now I know these girls too.”
The friendships that Balli has formed and the conversations she has started keeps her going. The play opened Balli’s eyes to the real, daily issues in what she described as a “racially tense society.”
“It’s unfortunate that this play still has themes very relatable today. They’re happening now more than in the 1960s, and it’s a conversation that we should talk about. This is meant to empower women of color and enlighten everyone else. In such a political time we are in now, it is a very necessary conversation to have. I want to challenge my audience with these conversations,” she said.
At the end of the day, Balli, her cast and the audience have learned to grow together and empower one another. Cast member Jordin Jones reflected on her experience in For Colored Girls.
“Being a part of For Colored Girls is such an empowering feeling. To convey so many messages to the audience in just an hour, and being able to be so vulnerable on stage is something I am so thankful to be a part of,” Jones said. “Although not everyone can relate, they can at least empathize and get a glimpse inside the life of an African American woman.”
Empathy is a major takeaway that Balli hoped the audience captured. Alexis Taylor, a management major and budding feminist, shared her thoughts on the play’s themes.
“This was one of the most powerful plays I have ever seen,” Taylor said. “I am a huge supporter of feminism, but now more than ever, I will be a supporter of all women and equality. I encourage everyone to do their research on this play, because it brought me chills at times. This was incredible.”
Viewers like Taylor make the experience worthwhile for Balli, and reminded her of the bigger picture.
“With awareness comes sympathy, and with sympathy comes compassion and understanding. Most of all, friendship,” she said.
Post-production, Balli is certain and hopeful for the future of her work as a director and artist. She will continue to work in theatre and spread her message of feminism and equal representation.
“My work is only going to get richer and more profound at this point,” she said. “Theatre is always going to be a part of my life,” she said. “I know that for sure.”