An affluent African American family gathers at their Martha's Vineyard vacation home as two sons plan to introduce their girlfriends to their upper class parents. Instead, they stumble into a domestic powder keg exposing secrets of prejudice, hypocrisy, and adultery. Will confrontations over race, economy, and politics pull a family together...or tear them apart?
|Scenic Designer||Kevin Loeffler|
|Costume Designer||Loyce Arthur|
|Lighting Designer||Bryon Winn|
|Sound Designer||Lindsay Wolf *|
|Stage Manager||LeeAnn Yeckley|
|Cast – in order of appearance|
|Kent (Spoon)||Barrington Vaxter *|
|Cheryl||Courtney Alane Eaddy-Richardson|
|Dad||Luis A. Sierra|
|* denotes undergraduate student|
BLACK, BOOJIE AND PROUD
An Interview with Tisch Jones
By Sydné Mahone, Dramaturg, with additional editing by Jenni Page-White, Assistant Dramaturg
Tisch Jones, director of Stick Fly, marks a milestone as an artist and an educator with this production. An associate professor of Theatre Arts and African American Studies, Tisch will retire from the University of Iowa faculty in December 2011.
SM: What is it about this play, Stick Fly, that speaks to you?
TJ: The first time I read it, what spoke to me was the fact that it was about a Black upper-middle-class family, which made me feel, “Wow, somebody’s finally writing something about me.” I do a lot of August Wilson plays, I do a lot of plays about slavery, but I don’t do enough contemporary plays about people of color who are what we would call, upper-middle class, or the Black Bourgeoisie. The last play I can remember that I did about the Black Bourgeoisie was Rachel by Angelina Grimke. A lot of people would think that’s not necessarily about the Black Bourgeoisie since Rachel has trouble finding work, but you have to understand that, in terms of Blacks in the history of the class system, the Black Bourgeoisie used to mean education. Rachel and her brother in that particular play are very educated. The play was written in 1917. Who’s writing plays today about people like me?
SM: Can you talk about the experiences in your life that reflect the Black upper-middle-class reality?
TJ: I told my cast when we started [rehearsal], that I was Black, boojie, and proud. And the reason I like to say “Black, boojie and proud” is there was a period of time during the ‘60s and ‘70s, during what we called the “Black Is Beautiful” period, if you didn’t have your ‘fro, if you didn’t have a dashiki, you weren’t down with the cause. And they would call you “boojie” and consider that you’re not a part of the future revolution. I used to always resent being called boojie by my friends. And I found myself getting a ‘fro, getting the dashiki, and changing the way I spoke so I could fit in and not be looked down upon as a boojie person. But really, deep down inside, I kept thinking, “What’s wrong with being boojie? All that meant is that I come from a family that meant getting an education was very important to be able to take charge, hold prominence, and fight for the American Dream. Yes, I come up from a slave background, but somebody fought hard to get beyond that. Someone fought hard to learn to read. Someone fought hard to make sure the children had property and that the children had education beyond that. I should be proud of the fact.
SM: What were your parents’ educational backgrounds?
TJ: My mother had a PhD in piano performance and music lit. And my grandfather, who went to school at Tuskegee and sang at Booker T. Washington’s funeral, had not only a B.A. from Tuskegee, but an honorary doctorate from another school. My grandmother went back to Dillard and finished her college degree with four children, which is really hard to believe because, as my uncle would say, “We never went to school dirty.” They didn’t have washing machines. She washed on her hand, but she finished her college degree with four children. All of their children have gone on to get masters and doctorates. That’s the standing tradition on my mother’s side of the family.
My father’s side of the family is another compilation. I call them more than Black Bourgeoisie; they’re Black aristocracy. These are people who actually moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, claimed land, owned a lot of the land, and also built mansions. In fact, one of them had a 28-room mansion with an airfield behind it because they had their own airplane. These people had money, had property and pretty much ran things in Oklahoma City, to the point that when Ralph Ellison, who wrote Invisible Man, and his family came to Oklahoma City, they moved in with my family. They took care of Ralph Ellison, helped them get along. They were more like the aristocracy because of the amount of money they had. But typically, I grew up down south knowing that when we talked about Black Bourgeoisie, it had to do with education, not necessarily money.
SM: Having achieved a certain level of education, what other responsibilities came with that? And what other lifestyle choices were important?
TJ: My family was a religious family, a family full of ministers and teachers. It afforded me a different way of looking at what was great to do in your life. My playtime was time to practice piano. I constantly had piano lessons, dance lessons, and violin lessons--all the way straight through high school. I don’t ever remember not playing piano, not playing violin, not singing in a choir, not having dance lessons.
SM: Why were those lessons so important?
TJ: Grandmother always believed that a person was not fully educated unless they could play piano, one string instrument, and type. (laughs) She made a point of doing that. As a result, she ended up with two daughters—one that ‘s a concert pianist, and one that’s an orchestral flutist. My aunt, the orchestral flutist, was over the music program for the National Endowment for the Arts. My family valued arts over anything else. It wasn’t about having all the money to buy toys, but it was having the resources, or as in the play, Stick Fly, I had “entre” to a lot of things. I look at pictures of my grandparents and my mom when she grew up. There are pictures of my grandparents standing with Mary McLeod Bethune. There is a picture of my grandfather sitting next to Albert Einstein because he had Einstein come and talk to his church. (laughs) And because teaching was a big issue, people taught on Black college campuses. For example, I remember growing up with Wilma Rudolph, who was the Olympic track runner, staying at my house. There was an actress, Rhoda Jordan,
I was reared from the family on my mother’s side. They were anti-Jack and Jill; they were anti-The Links. They were anti- any organization that made a difference in Black people according to color, or according to the haves and the have-nots. They were always, historically, political fighters. My great-great-grandfather was in the House of Representatives in Mississippi. He was such a radical person, he had to leave town. My grandfather started the first Urban League in New Orleans And then go on down, every generation, there was somebody that was radical in terms of fighting for Civil Rights--even myself, [during the Civil Rights movement], being in jail seven times, in Orangeburg, SC … in high school along with a lot of my classmates. Many of those people that did the sit-ins and all those struggles came out of colleges, came out of the middle class. I think it’s in the blood on my mother’s side.
SM: What are some of the important messages of this play?
TJ: How soon we forget, how soon we can forget. How soon we can put something behind us. When I got to the end of the play, I was knocked off my feet that we could do something so unconscionable. …Considering our history and our legacy, the outcome of this play should not have been—unless, maybe that’s the point. Maybe Miss Diamond wants us to talk about this kind of thing.
SM: How do you feel the play speaks to the current generation?
TJ: We’ve actually gotten to a point where you can have a class of people that don’t seem to be careful of how they make choices based on our legacy. This generation —I look at my own children—they seem to have a sense of entitlement that you’ll see the young men in this play seem to have, a sense of entitlement that I find we don’t have time for. If anything, we can’t lose a sense of who we are. We have to always remember where we came from. And unfortunately, we’ve got a generation of young, I say, Black kids in particular, coming through realizing that they weren’t slaves and they don’t remember that time, why should they care about it? Whereas they have to understand, if it wasn’t on the back of slavery, they wouldn’t be at this university; that nothing that is happening for them would have happened if it hadn’t been for all these chapters.
We’ll have more and more families like the one that this play looks at if we don’t consciously make the decision that we’re no better than anybody else; that we will not fall into the same traps that were acted out on us. We will not become those in power and abuse those without power, and that we will continue fighting for the right.
SM: How do you describe the kind of theatre that you love to make?
TJ: I like theatre of change, if there’s such a theatre. I subscribe to Victor Turner’s definition of ritual. Ritual is transformatory and I would like the theatre that I do to be transformatory. If you walk in one way, when you leave, you’ll be something else.
I believe theatre is meant to make a difference. I believe art is meant to make a difference. Yes, it’s supposed to glorify our world and show the beauty within us, but sometimes there’s the ugliness in us that really needs to be put out there. And theatre gives you the opportunity to show us at our worst, and make us have to come up with ideas on how to make ourselves better.
[Seeing Stick Fly, I would hope that] you learn about Black people that are different from any Black people you’ve probably ever seen. They might have some different ideology and they come from a different background than we do, but really, they’re people, and they have their dysfunction—not just because they’re Black; they have their dysfunction because they’re people. (laughs).
And in this time, when we’re talking abut class warfare, in this dialogue with the Republicans and the people on the street, Occupy Wall Street, you learn that there is intra-class warfare sometimes within different segments of the population. Through the ritual of coming in and learning about this new existence, maybe when you leave, you’ll become a much more informed human being about the lives of some Black people in this country; and about the reality of what life has been like, no matter how much money and land they have. Maybe you’ll start making them a part of your universal eyesight, or your universal language.
SM: What are your thoughts about this final production as a faculty member here at the University of Iowa?
TJ: It’s sort of sad, but I will say, once upon a time, when I was 15-years old, when my mother was here in grad school, we used to live in married-student housing, which is where Hancher now stands. And to get there, we would leave the Union, walk by this river, and I used to take a shortcut through the Art Building basement, and then through the E. C. Mabie basement to get warm on my way on that walk. And I’d go in and see E. C. Mabie stage and say, “One day when I grow up, I’m going to act on that stage.” Isn’t it interesting that not only did I get a chance to act on that stage, but I’m actually retiring from academia having directed on that stage? Most little girls dream about going to Broadway. I was dreaming about being on E. C. Mabie stage. And those seats are still the same color they were when I was 15. They have not changed colors. Hope they never do.