La Tasha Stephens came to our class today to perform her one woman show, I’m not a writer but I got a story to tell…” It was fantastic. La Tasha explained that she wrote the show because she’s been waiting and waiting for someone to tell these people’s stories, the people she grew up with and after all that waiting, she realized that she had to do it herself. Several of the women was particularly inspired by this saying, “You didn’t stay sitting in the back row, watching. You did it!” In the piece, La Tasha plays several characters, Mrs. Ida, the women who goes to church every Sunday and “knows ur business before it’s even ur business”; Jack Natty, who sits on the corner by the bodega and watched all the fine women go by, philosphizing on “Hoes and Housewives”; and Chance who writes because she’s afraid she’ll “lose my humanity & become nothin’ but a slave to this grind”.
What I love about this show is how La Tasha physically and vocally inhabits each character in a completely different way. She writes with a rhythm and a poetry that demands an emotional response. The women did respond, vocally and physically. They laughed and shook their heads, they leaned forward to see better. They agreed when La Tasha’s character said, “Fuck Waiting… If I want it done I’ll have to do it myself.”
In theatre and literature, in the media, in movies, on the television, these stories are not being told. And when they are told, too often people resort to the stereotypes and the easy answers. That’s not to say that no one tells these stories ever, but there is a great lack of them, especially in theatre. I could see today that the woman in our class felt that their stories were important. That their voices could matter and be heard.
La Tasha offered to listen even further. She has volunteered to create a performance piece out of the women’s own writing and present it to them in three weeks. We started writing today and next Friday, the women will write even more. I’ll take these to La Tasha, who will work her magic and give these stories back to the women who wrote them.
The class was really excited about this and started working on their stories today. One woman, who hasn’t shared her past with anyone in this program before, broke down and talked about her story with La Tasha and two of her classmates. I didn’t hear it all but it involved CPS (child protective services) and substance abuse, running away and not having a home, trying to make a life and being shut down again and again. I heard her say, “I don’t know why I’m telling this – I’ve never talked about this before.” All the frustration and pain rose up and poured out of her. La Tasha thanked her for sharing, suggested she write about some of that frustration and the two women next to her let her know that they were there to help.
As I went around the room, checking in with what the women were writing, some had similar stories of abuse, drugs and facades of normalcy hiding a painful life. One woman told of a love story, of a man and a woman struggling to stay free and live their lives and their love together, and how they keep losing the battle, how they have to express their love for each other in letters from jail and prison. We talked about words to describe it and came up with “journey” and “quest”.
La Tasha’s show opened a door. We’ll keep walking through it next week. I can’t wait to hear what stories emerge.