In the world of theatre, the challenge is to offer something memorable for the audience by creating something which has never been seen before. This is a tall order as people to try to anticipate the style and entertainment value of each show. When the theatre department of Southeastern Louisiana University announced they would perform For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, it was clear the stakes have been raised.
The play was written by Ntozake Shange and it is her most acclaimed theatrical piece. With the creation of this play, Shange coined the term “choreopoem,” a type of performance which utilizes music and dance to captivate the audience and help advance the story. The plot follows seven African-American women who share details from their life through the use of 20 poems which focus on mature topics such as rape, abortion and domestic violence. Each of the ladies represented a different color of the rainbow in order to reinforce the theme of sisterhood as they reflected on the adversity they have dealt with in their society. Furthermore, Shange used events from her own life as inspiration and came up with the title after driving under two parallel rainbows one day.
The production was directed by Sarah Balli, a senior art major and member of Alpha Psi Omega, the national theatre honorary society on Southeastern’s campus. “Directing is kind of my passion, and I thoroughly enjoy every aspect of the process,” she said. “The long hours of rehearsal have definitely paid off, and I’m so proud of the girls.” In previous semesters, Balli assistant directed Distracted with Jim Winter, associate professor of acting and directing and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot with Jennifer Bouquet, adjunct professor of the theatre department. “Working with such talented people in the past has given me the confidence to take a huge step forward in our organization.”
Aside from directing, Balli was also the scenographer, assistant sound designer, dramaturg and graphic designer. Furthermore, this play is more than just a gratifying opportunity for her; it is part of her senior thesis which is essential for her undergraduate career. “I took many responsibilities for this production in order to truly connect with my cast mates and crew members,” she said. “They immediately understood what I was looking for, and worked incredibly hard to bring it to life.”
The play was a turning point for the Southeastern theatre department as it was the first show since Fences in 2010 to focus on and star an African-American cast, which is one of the reasons why Balli decided to helm the project. “It’s time we bring more shows with diversity back to Southeastern,” she said. “There are so many talented students who deserve a fair chance no matter the color of their skin.” Balli is certain the audience left the theatre feeling inspired and more self-aware of how they treat those around them. “I wanted to take everyone on a journey, and teach them a lesson in racial acceptance and tolerance through the eyes of young ladies who have lived longer than their years.”
The play held its auditions on Tuesday, August 22nd with dance callbacks following shortly afterwards. Before the night was over, Balli had found the girls who would make this story a reality. “When I was cast as the Lady in Purple, it was an absolute dream come true,” said Shelly Sneed, a senior general studies major with a concentration in theatre. “Being involved in this show was a blessing, and this is now my favorite character I have played in my history with the Southeastern theatre department.” Other cast members included Taylor Bennett as the Lady in Yellow, Jordin Jones as the Lady in Red and Breyanna Johnson as the Lady in Orange. “We definitely bonded after the read-through, and we all knew what was expected of us since the beginning,” said Sneed.
Originally, the production was to be performed on the last week of September, but in order to give the ladies more time to rehearse, they delayed it to the first week of October. “We knew pushing the show back would upset a lot of people, but it had to be done,” said Katy Baronich, Alpha Psi Omega alumnae and stage manager for the show. “We had a limited amount of time to put everything together; it was a hasty decision and we sincerely apologize to everyone who made arrangements.” Despite this setback, the opening night was a success and those in attendance gave a standing ovation after the performance. “When the audience rose to their feet, I couldn’t stop smiling; it was one of the proudest moments of my life,” said Balli.
Some people in the audience were so moved by the play and reacted with laughter, tears and applause. “I was crying from beginning to end because everything was so moving,” said Shirley Mier, costume construction crew member and vice president of Alpha Psi Omega. “I’m glad I was able to contribute to this production, and I’m proud of my little ones who were in the show.”
Balli discussed her future plans after she graduates in December with her Bachelor of Arts degree. “I definitely want to get my MFA in directing because I want to continue doing what I love,” she said. “I’ve looked at some prospective schools up north who teach advanced directing classes, so I plan on heading there.”
All in all, this show has proven when it comes to talent and dedication, your true colors will shine through. “The one thing I’m going to miss about the show is my cast,” she said. “We’re a family now because we embraced the message of the show: We are the same underneath and we’re not so different as people think.”