Two weeks ago, I photographed Echo Brown and “Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters “at Oakland Tribe. I included this 34 image PHOTO GALLERY; the photos in the post are also in the gallery.
Originally, the November 27, 2016 performance was scheduled as Echo’s final 2016 show; however, she has scheduled three more Oakland performances for December. Echo will also appear on KQED’s Forum tomorrow with Michael Krasny at 10:00 am.
After I met Echo at an art education event a couple years ago, I have wanted to attend her one-person show. Our schedules never aligned until late last month. Even though she claims that she doesn’t “have a background in theater,” she intuitively understands performance. She is creative, energetic, funny and smart. She is engaging.
Echo may not have had formal theater training before she wrote her current play, but her journey prepared her for the stage. Echo has been code-switching since she was a young person. Code-switching requires that a person be able to read an audience and understand place and time. Perhaps even more fundamental, when a person is forced to code-switch, a person understands that humans perform their societal roles. We perform gender roles too. Echo has been performing since she was a smart high school student. She continued performing when she attended an Ivy League university. She probably does not stop performing when she leaves the stage.
I realize that some people will misunderstand my compliment. My comments were written as a person who has “performed” for much of my life. I have hidden to survive.
Throughout “Black Virgins,” Echo addresses many sensitive topics. Some audience members might become uncomfortable, but Echo creates an arc that allows for feelings to build and release. (There is also a discussion period after the performance which I highly recommend.) Perhaps because I am recently divorced, I was touched by some of the lighter moments. Echo’s character expresses a lonely vulnerability that feels universal.
I would probably write much of this remaining section in my “Notes on a Blog” over at www.morethankids.com, but it seems appropriate to continue writing below considering recent events.
I saw Black Virgins the Sunday before the Ghost Ship Fire and the same month as the 2016 election. After the performance, Echo led a discussion. Audience members, many of whom are women of color, shared concerns about living in the Bay Area. They shared the experience of living in a so-called liberal part of the country, yet feeling left out. The Bay Area is not the safe place for women of color as many people think.
The greater Bay Area community can learn a great deal from Echo Brown and her audience members. In the post-election/post-Ghost Ship Fire Bay Area, it is too simplistic to claim that Donald Trump’s campaign “provided a platform for white supremacists.” How do Bay Area Liberals provide a platform for racism to continue? How did Oakland provide a platform for the Ghost Ship Fire?
Black Girls Are Not For Virgins forced me to ask basic questions that many white folks are afraid to ask publicly. I think that white folks would rather discuss vague definitions of diversity, equity and policy. We don’t want to ask real tough questions about our Time, Treasure and Talent.
Who do we love? Who do we love romantically? Where do we love and where do we live?
Where do we send our kids to school? Why do we send our kids to THAT school? Is it because we don’t want OUR kids to go to school with THOSE people? Do we really love THOSE people?
Where do we work? How does our business recruit new staff? How does the HR Department help talented people code-switch so they don’t get stuck behind the latest automated HR software? When we do not challenge our employers, what platform do we think we are providing?
I think we need to question our priorities. In Oakland, we have passed a soda tax to increase safety. Our city council passed a gun measure (for safety). Did those actions become our priorities? Did those actions improve health and safety or were they merely safe actions?
Echo acknowledges that when people ask difficult questions, it comes with a cost. I am grateful that Echo Brown presents these issues so forcefully. It provides space for the rest of us to ask the difficult questions, even if asking those questions might come at a cost.
NOTE: I edited the post on 12/12 (and again on the 14th). I might still add a notes section on my older blog and if I do, I will include this source about performing roles.