“Becoming the director provided me a space to really create my own vision and my own voice in what I wanted to say,” explains director and choreographer Camille A. Brown of “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.” When this revival of Ntozake Shange’s landmark play opened Off-Broadway, Brown served only as choreographer. But for the Broadway transfer, she also took over as director. She earned two Tony nominations for her efforts. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
Brown’s dual roles and dual nominations have historic importance. She is the first Black woman to serve as both director and choreographer for a Broadway show in 67 years. The last time this happened was with Katherine Dunham in 1955. Additionally, she and fellow nominee Lileana Blain-Cruz (“The Skin of Our Teeth”) are just the second and third women of color to be nominated for Best Director of a Play. Liesl Tommy first accomplished this feat in 2016 with “Eclipsed.”
“I guess the question for both of them is, why did it take so long?” wonders Brown. The Tony nominee hopes that these statistics encourage a conversation. They also help reinforce the meaning behind her nominations. “I feel incredibly honored,” says the Tony nominee, “but it also reminds me that it’s not just about you. It’s a responsibility that you’re carrying forward a legacy.”
Of course, in order to successfully stage a revival of a play as personal as “for colored girls,” the director had to put her own stamp on the production. “What I really wanted the takeaway to be was to see Camille. How does Camille enter these poems? What are the rhythms that I would put behind them?” Playwright Ntozake Shange wove her own real life experiences into the piece, so Brown would have to do the same. “Because it taps into the specificity of who she is, it automatically makes it universal,” she explains.
Brown, who has a background in concert dance (she runs her own company, Camille Brown and Dancers), “found her own entry point” to the play. That entry point was movement. “Play” is an inadequate word to describe “for colored girls,” which seamlessly combines poetry and dance. Shange coined the phrase “choreopoem” to describe her creation, which was a perfect launchpad for Brown. “The idea of the choreopoem, that was the thing that clicked for me,” describes the director, “this idea of storytelling being driven through dance.” So, she leaned into her concert dance background and used those instincts to guide the process. Gone was the initial read-through, which is standard for most plays on the first day of rehearsal. Brown tossed the pages aside and said “we’re going to have a dance through.” With the movement left undefined in the script, there was a blank canvas for the director/choreographer to make her mark.
In a heartbreaking turn of events, “for colored girls” announced that it would close prematurely on May 22. That is, until the Broadway community decided otherwise and took matters into their own hands. A grassroots fan campaign to save the revival quickly sprung up on social media, with fans buying tickets for themselves, and strangers. After a flurry of ticket sales and seven Tony Award nominations, producers announced a two week extension until June 5. “To feel so low about that, but then to feel, and hear and see the community responding and rallying behind this show… it was just amazing,” declares Brown. “The closing kind of triggered that idea that sometimes as a Black woman, how I sometimes feel invisible,” she admits. But the community response was invigorating and reaffirming. “It made me feel like we were being seen.”
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