It’s Spring (not according to Boston weather), so it’s that time of the year when theatre companies start releasing their seasons for the upcoming year. As I was browsing the internet, I noticed that Speakeasy Stage announced their season, and that they would be producing the New England Premiere Jocelyn Bioh’s School Girls, or the African Mean Girls Play. I was immediately excited that this was something I could audition for. I started researching more about the play and Jocelyn Bioh, reading reviews and interviews and more.
But then it hit me. Is it okay for me to be in this play? I’m a light-skin black woman. I’m American. I’m not African (I mean… I’m African in the sense that my ancestors were brought over here in a boat centuries ago).
I had to look at myself and ask some tough questions. If I were to be casted in this show, am I taking away the opportunity to represent an authentic African experience on a Boston stage? Does me wanting to act in this show go against my desires for representation in theatre? It was important for me to ask these questions to myself, and really think about how my body would be presented on stage and what connotations that holds. It is important to get specific. Representation isn’t just black and white. Black isn’t just black. Representation, especially of black bodies, is about getting down to investigating the specificity of experiences. This isn’t my experience and this isn’t my culture. My experience as a 20 something black American is completely different from a teenager in Ghana.
The character breakdown that Jocelyn Bioh provides states that, “all characters are of West African Descent and are to be played by African and/or Black actors.” I think that I will still be able to audition for this show, but it’s tricky! If I were to be casted in this show, or a show that has a similar situation, I think having this conversation about casting a Black American as an African character is necessary.
I’m constantly wrestling with this and I know there isn’t a simple answer.