“I write for young girls of color, for girls who don’t even exist yet, so that there is something there for them when they arrive,” playwright Ntozake Shange once said in an interview for Mother Jones.
The first revival of her seminal work for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf (recently extended through June 5 at the Booth Theatre) has returned to Broadway this season with Camille A. Brown at the helm, serving as both director and choreographer—the first Black female to hold both titles for a Broadway production in more than six decades. The prior was Katherine Dunham, who directed and choreographed several reviews in the 1940s, then twice brought her own dance company to the Main Stem in the 1950s. However, Brown now holds a further distinction. She has been nominated for a Tony Award for both direction and choreography for her work on the for colored girls...revival.
Brown was not yet born when for colored girls…premiered on Broadway in 1976. The play, or “choreopoem” as Shange called it, was groundbreaking in both form and content, combining poetry, dance, and music as seven Black women, dressed in the colors of the rainbow, each tell their story of what it is to be a Black woman in America.
The work, now almost 50 years old, still holds relevance for Brown, though. “I can read phrases and say, ‘Wow. I understand that. I’ve been there.’ This piece can hold history, but it’s also very contemporary as well,” says Brown. “The things that Black women go through in terms of racism and sexism that they went through during the 70s isn’t too far off from what we go through today.”
Brown says that when she was younger she was very shy, with a small voice, and that dance became a means of self-expression for her. “I use movement to tell stories,” she says. “And one of the beautiful things about the choreopoem is that Shange is leading with movement. It’s not often that it’s put at the center. For her, movement and language coexist.”
As Brown, with her already strong background in dance and choreography (she has founded her own dance company and previously choreographed three Broadway shows), begins to move more into the world of theatre directing, the choreopoem becomes the first perfect blending of those two worlds. And the heft of this moment—the stories of Black women being guided by and told through the lens of a Black woman—is not lost on her.
“I didn’t know that directing and choreographing on Broadway was an option for me, because it hadn’t happened in a very long time. The possibilities have expanded beyond my thinking. And that’s why this is important. Because it’s not going to be, hopefully, beyond the understanding of the next person.”
Brown will have left something there for them when they, too, arrive.