"In the flying monkeys section, we are using swings that will function like a trapeze..." is the e-mail that I received from my choreographer two months before our first day of rehearsal for The Wiz at Ford's Theatre. TRAPEZE! We are going from toe tapping munchkins to aerialist monkeys? Sign me up! Being in the ensemble is amazing. I would've never guessed that in a million years I would be able to write "aerialist" on my resume. Fast forward to the first day of rehearsal, family reunion style.
When you walk into a room and you look around and everyone looks like you, the creatives speak your language and the melanin is just flourishing, you feel at home. To be in a show with an all black cast, a black director, a black choreographer, a black music director and a black costume designer, telling a black story is simply... magical. The music director knows your voice, the choreographer incorporates black dance styles from West Africa to the inner city projects, the costume designer is able to use the right colors to make the many shades represented flourish while accentuating all our curves. As an ensemble member, it means the world to me to perform in a world where I can look into my cast members eyes and there is a familiarity and camaraderie that I do not get to experience often.
As ensemble members we have a duty to always push the plot forward while supporting our leads; that is a big responsibility. It is even a bigger responsibility when you are standing on the shoulders of the Geoffrey Holder, Hinton Battle, Mabel King, Lena Horne, Andre DeSheilds, Stephanie Mills and many other iconic black performers that have made this show such an integral part of American Musical Theatre History. Every night, I am reminded that black people, black art, black music is magical. We tell the story of our struggles, our triumphs, our families while dancing to music that is so innate, and the movement of our ancestors flows through our bodies. I may not have a lot of speaking lines as an ensemble member, but every pirouette, every battement, every high A-flat (as your favorite ensemble soprano) adds to the story, in particular our story of a young black girl finding her way in a magical land and essentially understanding what Home is.
I'm not just tree #5 upstage left moving a set piece when needed, I work as part of a well-oiled machine that has made little black and brown boys and girls smile each and every night. One night, this young black princess stood the entire show with a yellow bow in her hair, smiling and singing along and occasionally talking back to the scarecrow. As we danced, she danced. Ensemble members are the pages in a book and without pages for someone to write on the book cannot turn. We help turn the pages, time and time again. Turning the pages of our story that doesn't get told often, or if it is told, a lot of times told by someone that isn't cut from the cloth that we come from. I am forever grateful to be a part of this BlackGirlMagic-BlackBoyJoy festival that takes place every night and on one of the most historical theaters in America.