Fix It, Black Girl
By Hannah L. Drake
Featuring Erica Denise, Hannah L. Drake, Janelle Renee Dunn, Robin G, Sujotta Pace, and Kala Ross.
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Theatre in Louisville is back? Mere days after announcing an entirely virtual 2020-21 season, Actors Theatre premiered the first production on that roster, Hannah Drake’s Fix It, Black Girl. However obvious a choice it is in this moment of social protest in response to ongoing police brutality and the death of Breonna Taylor in particular, it is also a savvy first salvo in virtual productions; relatively brief but, more importantly, material that exploits the format to good effect.
That material is written by Louisville spoken word artist, writer, and activist Hannah L. Drake, a series of poems and prose exploring identity for Black women in America. The language is alternately personal and communal, intimate and expansive; she connects with the interior mind while assuredly placing it in a distinct social context. Fix It, Black Girl is both declaration and indictment.
The ensemble of six Black women includes Drake herself, as well as Erica Denise, Janelle Renee Dunn, Sujotta Pace, each of whom is part of the ATL staff, University of Louisville African American Theatre Program alum Ka Ross and local poet Robin G. All bring the passion and introspection in the appropriate time and measure, but Ka Ross’ fiery reading of “This Is For Black Girls…” really got the blood flowing, and her rendition of the Billie Holiday classic “Strange Fruit” enlarged the impact of the evening. Another song from Erica Denise’s powerful voice framed the emotional arc of the production. Robin G also captured righteous outrage “…we are not rag dolls”, and Sujotta Pace brought a centered, beatific presence to her contributions.
This is only a substitute for live theatre, but it may also have staying power as a way to extend community outreach. The Zoom format lends the delivery an immediacy different than the electricity of the live experience. So accustomed are we to meetings, seminars, and NTI in such a context that the emotional force seems directed at us as individuals, particularly when a performer is alone onscreen. The aspect of communal gathering absent, it becomes a curious, one on one dynamic.
As good as it was, it also illustrates the challenges of virtual theatre. How do you introduce meaningful design elements? There was an effective use of images and quotes, most notably from Malcolm X. Ka Ross and Sujotta Pace both have color schemes in what they wore and the wall and lighting they employed in what we presume is their homes; cold, harsher tones for Ross’ indignation and warm and comforting for Pace’s positive reinforcement. The other frames seem less specific and altogether neutral. There were some memorable earrings featuring African motifs, and I would love to see greater production coordination with individual performers separated by necessity. Photographic backgrounds could easily provide a note of consistency in the look of the frames, and some very simple lighting could be dropped on people’s doorstep.
But, to be fair, Fix It, Black Girl that was undoubtedly brought to fruition with some speed to speak to the moment overrides any nitpicking. What Actors Theatre has done here is a resonant rapid response to an unprecedented heated moment of social protest. This production serves as both a bulwark for and a barometer of that moment.
And it also worth noting that, nearly as compelling as the performance, was the relief and exultation expressed by the ensemble after they finished. “We did it!” exclaimed Erica Denise, underscoring the idea that virtual theatre remains a Brave Nee World. The piece itself was about 45 minutes long, but by all mean stay for the impromptu 20 minute discussion that followed.
The opening night live streaming was a fundraiser, with proceeds to be shared equally between Black Lives Matter Louisville, Louisville Community Grocery, and Actors Theatre of Louisville. Donations are accepted through Sunday, June 14, but when the premiere signed off at 8:04 pm $7,365 had been raised online.
Fix It, Black Girl
Live-streamed on June 12, 2020, available to view on Facebook and YouTube
Actors Theatre Direct
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.