by Isisara Bey
house lights are dimmed, the audience expectantly shifts in their seats.
Ms. Lady appears in the back of the house and slowly makes her way to
the stage. Her eyes glowering coals, feet shuffling in worn down, blue
house shoes. "Yawl think you betta than Ms. Lady, huh, but you jess
the same as me," she shouts, pointing an accusing finger at the crowd.
Like a packed rush hour subway car, the panoply of characters inside the
mind of performance artist Sarah Jones, crowd her being, yet remain distinct
and independent. They are wedging into seats, clinging to bars, mashed
against doors, squeezing past protruding back packs and stumbling over
brief cases lost in the tangle of legs and feet. They are declaring their
right to space, breath and respect. Each one a world unto herself within
the swirling, wrenching, comical, mystically mad human drama called Life.
Ms. Lady is but one of the characters in Sarah's first show, Surface
Transit. We clock Sarahs journey through the lives of eight
New York City characters by their change of clothes on a darkened stage,
and her dead-on mutation of voice and accent in the microphone.
In her more recent show, Women Cant Wait, a commissioned
work for the international advocacy group, Equality Now, Sarah further
refines her character changes into seamless transitions by the mere re-arrangement
of a gossamer scarf. First it is an Indian sari, then a Spanish mothers
shawl, next its Muslim purdah, then a Kenyan childs doll.
With Sarah, a fluid, flowing, prop accessory transforms into an experience
for a particular culture-- for a specific woman.
These performances uphold the grand tradition of one-woman shows. A moment
on the stage where someone of singular talent transforms herself time
and again into a pageant of personalities, replete with longings and loves,
hopes and fears, quirks and tics. They are people we may know. Folks we
have seen on the street, at work, or in our families. So familiar in fact,
that in the end, they remind us of ourselves. And they should. Sarah says
she creates them from composites of real people-- relatives, friends,
people from her childhood - blended with experiences she has had or something
she has read, to resonate with her sense of self and what needs to be
"Using my voice," as she calls it, is vital for the dread-locked
Baltimore native. Its part of the power of performance that fascinates
her most. She speaks about racism, sexism, classcism, and internationalism
in ways that are intimate, humorous, colorful, confronting. Grand, global
issues rooted in very human connections.
It was the conversations with a homeless woman living in a New York City
subway station that inspired the character, Ms. Lady. Piecing together
remnants of her life story between the womans periodic flights from
lucidity, Sarah was able to create a portrait of searing insight and bracing
wit. Representative of the grace and serenity of someone who has seen
too much of life, yet not enough to be cynical, despite her reduced circumstances.
Sarah knows these characters intuitively and respects them resolutely:
"I can feel it immediately when I am not being true to them, or when
they are not being true to themselves." They are her heroes. More
than any famous name on the world stage, she sees them as the true shining
lights of every day life.
As an actress, her choices for characters are singularly perceptive and
highly nuanced. They are extremely well fleshed-out: from Lorraine, the
Jewish grandmother's hacking cough and constant eyeglass adjustments;
and the Italian cop's squared shoulder swagger and fishmouth expression;
to the black Londoner Sugar Jones' poignantly insecure laugh. Part of
Sarahs skill as an actress is that we never see her. She virtually
disappears into the person she is portraying. "Its easy to
spend lots of time on characters I don't think are like me, she whispers
to protect her laryngitis affected voice. "Fortunately, she
continues, " I have found that being with my family is a dependably
consistent way for me to feel like myself again. With them it's no voices,
no costumes, no hiding."
Much has been made, by the media, of Sarahs multi-ethnic origins,
(her father, African-American and her mother, European-Caribbean), and
of her years at the United Nations International School. As a goof, she
would call the principals office from the student lounge, imitating
the various foreign accents of her friends mothers in a series of
creative lies to cover a day off hooking school. (The pay phone was removed
from the lounge when the ruse was discovered.)
In this age of almost rabid multi-culturalism, talk of her race may be
a way for white reviewers to accept her work and to understand how a Black
woman can speak so authentically in the voice of a Southern white supremacist,
a Russian maid, an Indian activist, and a Boricua round-the-way girl.
On the other hand, with great reviews, sold-out shows and mad love from
the likes of Gloria Steinem and Lauryn Hill to boot, Sarah still wishes
that there were more black and brown folks checking out her shows. She
reveals, "The other night in the show I mentioned something about
BET (Black Entertainment Television), and someone told me the two white
folks near them whispered, 'What's BET?' Times like that I miss seeing
my people in the audience."
Someday soon, singing will be added to her arsenal of talents. Collaborations
with other distinctive artists are another goal. And we will undoubtedly
see more of Sarah in films and on television, beginning in the Fall with
her appearance in Spike Lees next flick, Bamboozeled.
Many other artists have risen to stardom from a pin spot on a darkened
stage. That is in her future, to be sure. But the connection to earthiness,
to real people will remain. After all, she is still the product of the
corner cafes, poetry slams, college tours, and free prison and recreation
center performances she has given in cities across the country. Ultimately,
as Sarah reminds us, " I'll always be the same little girl who used
to sing into a hairbrush in the bathtub."
~ Isisara Bey is the Senior Director of Corporate Affairs at Sony
Music where she redefines drama in the workplace by inviting
artists to perform as part of Sonys monthly symposiums.
Nothing against Jennifer Lopez, but Liza Colon-Zayas is not feeling her
ritmo nor is the least bit fascinated by her Loreal blond-streaked coif
and big booty. You see Liza lives for boriquenas like herselfstreetwise,
tough, fiery and loyal. These women love hard, work hard, play hard and
know that all the girls around the way have those same derrieres.
In her one woman show, Sistah Supreme, the 30-something, Bronx
native brings these Latinas centerstage in a semi-autobiographical journey
that cuts close to the bone with issues of internalized racism and sashays
freely with the innocent, ambitious dreams of the protagonistNena
(Liza). Sistah Supreme is as much about any young Black, Asian
or Latina city-girl coming of age in the 70s and 80s, wanting
to be una mujer completa.
Sistah Supreme melds Tito Puente with George Clinton and fuses arroz con
gandules with Bodega-front acid trips. Like Langston Hughes a
dream deferred, Liza creates flying dreams for Nena
to escape the hardship of being a morena in a Pre-Rosie Perez world.
Liza is a member of LAByrinth Theatre Co. where she has just returned
from her second European tour of The Story of a Soldier. She
has appeared in New York Undercover and The Keeper. In her
spare time she works in inner city schools, shelters and drug rehabilitation
programs as an actor/ teacher and group facilitator. We caught up with
Liza at her Lower East Side home on her day-off from Sistah Supreme:
theHotness: Describe growing-up in
a house full of Latina women:
Liza Colon-Zayas: Well, I was basically
raised by womenmy sisters, my aunt, and my grandmother. The women
had to be strong. They were the ones present in the household. Traditionally
women did not live alone. When you left (home) you went to live with your
husband. And even when my mother got married they moved out, but when
she was pregnant my parents insisted that her and her husband move back
home with them. I remember there being a strong sense of controlling womens
lives. My mom and her mom were raised to be submissiveto make children
and to keep the home comfortable for their husbands.
tH: Most women in your show were anxious,
angry and frustrated as a result of the men in their lives or the lack
of men in their lives. So how is it that there is even a sistah supreme
LCZ: Well I would not say (the pain)
is because of men so much as it is about loving ourselves and of having
a knowledge of self. The society that we live in told us we werent
beautiful unless we assimilated or changed and diminished as much of our
ethnicity as possible. I mean on my birth certificate it read white
and my cousins had to wear clothespins on their noses. It was crazy. We
would be on vacation in Puerto Rico and they would tell us not to sit
out in the sun. Cmon, we were in Puerto Rico for goodness sake!
Then as a female you are a second class citizen. It wasnt until
I discovered my history and got my education that I felt empowered. When
I went away to school I stopped denying my differences and had a conscious
raising experience. Racially I am African. Ethnically I am Puerto Rican.
And that was that.
tH: So do you believe that if women
knew more about our history and ourselves, the less problems we would
LCZ: If (we) werent robbed of
(our) history, then (we) wouldnt feel like (we) were nothing. Originally
in Sistah Supreme, Nenas mother was putting down the
Muslim women on the bus for changing their names to African-sounding names
like Shaniqua-Malika-Sistah-Supreme, saying aint no man worth
it! When in fact she was just as emotionally oppressed as they were
when she married a man who loved his liquor more than he loved her.
tH: Now aint no man worth that!
~ N. Moore
TO THE TOP
your vagina could talk, what would she say? Would she scream, Waassuuup?
Or is she the silent type? First let's take a step back and acknowledge
that there's this part of the body women possess called a vagina. (With
the exception of my gynecologist, most folks tend to refer to the vagina
by one of her many nicknamesNa-Na, Coochie, Nappy Dug-Out, and the
universal favorite, Pussy.) Take a deep breath, strengthen those muscles
with a Kegel or two, and feel that energy. We need to harness this power
and be aware of the many talents our vaginas possess. If you think about
it, she is the end all, be all. She brings forth life, is adaptable to
mens variances, a champion of seduction, and our best kept secret.
According to Eve Ensler's play, The Vagina Monologues, (based
on her book of the same name), we must demand the recognition it deserves
for being such an influential source. Playing at the Westside Theater
in Manhattan, The Vagina Monologues is a celebration of vaginas
presented in a most simple and elegant form: three actresses of diverse
backgrounds and cultures, a couple of chairs, and about six bottles of
water. Expect no song and dance, although you may find yourself singing
the word cunt repeatedly with glee after all is said and done.
The Vagina Monologues was developed out of a concern that
there was a pervasive feeling of shame and ignorance about vaginas, which
was leading to increasing acts of violence against women. By encouraging
a dialogue about vaginas with women and making it a part of the vernacular,
Ensler is attempting to eradicate this embarrassment and recognize the
V as an integral, awesome part of the female body, as well
as our culture.
With all this empowering rah-rah talk about vaginas, there must be a few
men experiencing some vagina envy (you want one or you want
to be in one). I urge you to see this play with your girl, and share in
the excitement. Perhaps you can have your own naming ceremony afterwards,
or let your curiosity get the best of you and indulge in that so-called
act that men, "just don't do." Go on and make someone happy
and have a conversation with your favorite coochie.
To purchase tickets for The Vagina Monologues, get an update
on upcoming cast, and obtain more information, visit www.vaginamonologues.com.
- Bahia Ramos lives in Brooklyn, NY where she knocks-out atleast
10 Kegels every Saturday morning.
Girl In Paris
by Shay Youngblood
My name is Eden and Im not afraid of anything anymore.
Like my literary godfathers who came to Paris before me I
intend to live a life where being black wont hold me back.
Set in 1986, Black Girl In Paris, is the story of 26-year-old
aspiring writer Eden, and her journey of self-discovery in Paris-- the
home of her artistic forefathers Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and James
Baldwin. Eden wants to be a writer and like her literary Gods, she expects
Paris to inspire and launch her own artistic awakening and freedom.
Edens eyes immerse us in a Paris that is all at once strange, boring,
wild, beautiful and in the grips of panic with terrorist bombs exploding
all over the city. When Eden has a harrowing experience with two police
officers while with her white lover Ving and Olu Christopher, a Haitian
exile, her thrill of new love crashes against a wall of anger and pain.
They held their pistols poised at their hips. The officers moved
closer and caught Olu-Cristopher by the front of his shirt. A lAfrique
avec les autres singes. I knew the French word for monkey. I felt
as if a blow had landed squarely in my stomach. Through Edens
experiences we see her struggle to hold onto the dream of a free life
that her Aunt George painted for her and the reality that freedom is just
as elusive in France as it is in Georgia.
In ancient times maps were made to help people find water and the
way back home. I need a map to help me find love and language, since one
didnt exist, Id have to invent one following the trails and
signs left by other travelers, realizes Eden in her quest to live
and love without being bound to any constraints. As Eden follows the map
of experiences created by Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, she discovers
her own literary voicefull of understanding, happiness and confidence.
With novels like this, Soul Kiss (a powerful and gripping
coming of age story) and Big Mama Stories (folktale-like stories
of womanhood, pride and love), Shay Youngblood gives readers an inside
look into the hearts of black women that are quiet, jubilant, thoughtful,
and defiant. Women that dare to make a way when there is none.
~ Stephanie Mohorn resides in Mt. Vernon, NY where she uses her
free time to mind-travel the world over.
"We really look at rethinking domesticity," says Jean Railla,
the 29-year-old editor-in-chief of the New York-based Crafty Lady Website
and overseer of a budding empire built on the growing trend of hipness
in handmades. "I don't think Martha Stewart is doing this."
Indeed. A few clues that this is not your Martha's domesticity: First,
Railla's current Editor's Letter begins, "I confess: I'm dirty."
Second, the site's accompanying "Glitter" forum mentions Hitachi
Magic Wands, and third, articles include Punk Rock Cooking (which, according
to Railla, is "all about how not to follow recipes") and an
application of Marxist theory to thrift shopping. Distinctly un-Martha.
But that's not to say that Crafty Lady doesn't deliver the goods. Each
month, the site gets 15,000 hits and Glitter at least 100 postings. As
Railla says, the audience is "mostly urban women in their 20s, and
they want to talk about hard-core crafting," which includes everything
from how to buy power tools to painting your apartment to making gifts.
And it represents a new generation of interest in craft a kind
"Middle-class women, especially in the past 15 years, have been rejecting
all things domestic," says Railla. "Especially if you were bright
and independent, success was all about moving out of the home and into
the workplace. Now more women are single, buying their own houses, or
knowing that they're not doing these domestic things for a husband, but
to build a home for themselves. And then, there's something really beautiful
about the everydayness' of knitting a scarf, putting some art in
The Crafty Ladies hold a real-world knitting group once a month
it's one of the domestic arts that has been largely rediscovered. In fact,
last October, the Craft Yarn Council of America sponsored a "Knit
Out" in New York's Union Square which drew more than 7,000 people.
Then there is the monthly Crafty Lady finance group, The Money Drunk.
"Almost everyone in crafts is actively trying to figure out a lifestyle
that doesn't entail working a million hours a week," says Railla.
"The finance group is very much based on the idea that we need to
be self-sufficient." That, or do away with money altogether: Railla
would like to create a place on the site where women can swap crafts.
"We want to really play with a non-monetary barter system,"
she says. "So it would be like, 'My camofleece scarf for your crocheted
The headwear exchanging hands on Crafty Lady may sound strictly under-30,
but the site has not excluded the generation that brought craftiness home.
"We even have a lady who's a granny," says Railla. "She
was sewing a baby blanket for her granddaughter and giving us hints on
more on Get Crafty go to
~ Amy Goldwasser is a writer who lives "downtown" in
New York. She's not especially crafty, but she respects craftiness.
TO THE TOP
become financially independent you must turn part of
your income into capital; turn capital into enterprise; turn
enterprise into profit; turn profit into investment; and turn
investment into financial independence. - Jim Rohn
I have something to share with you, but first I'm going to tell you a
story of a life-changing dialogue with a former director that forever
changed how I view the value of my contribution to any company, and more
importantly, to my own self-worth. The conversation went like this:
"I think it's time we discuss our agreement. I told you that I would
work here 3 months as a temp so that we could see whether or not we could
actually work well together long-term. It's been three months and we should
discuss changing my status from temp to perm," I said-- believing
that he would indeed honor his word. The three months had been quite a
challenge, but what the heck, I had moved on up from an administrative
assistant to an executive assistant to the CEO of an investment bank.
Surely I was gonna make me some real money.
"Well, I don't know Sweet P...how much money do you want," he
I looked at him slightly perplexed. Three months previous we had discussed
not only my salary, but during our initial interview, he told me that
the salary ranged anywhere from $35 -75,000. Our deal was that after three
months we would "negotiate" a salary commensurate with my experience
and with my responsibilities. As I thought through my confusion, I considered
the fact that I was the oldest of three and that my mom, two weeks prior,
had been diagnosed with Stage IV Breast Cancer and could die. So now it
was more a matter of securing a permanent position to assist my mom through
her illness. I needed that job; there was no question of that.
"I want $38,000 to $40,000," was my response.
"I'm afraid, that I can only give you $36,000," he said with
a very serious look.
"Okay fine, I resolved. When do my benefits start,"
I asked quite impatiently.
He fixed a smirk on his face, adjusted his pants, paused and gave me a
long hard look and said, "Tsk, Tsk, Tsk, Sweet P, you don't even
know your own worth!"
He laughed. Yes, he laughed at me as he stood nose to nose from me. I
could feel the sting of his laughter. As I sit here sharing this with
you, tears well up in my eyes for the memory is forever etched in my heart.
It still hurts. It's a moment and a feeling that I will take to my grave.
He was right. Sadly, at that time I did not know my own worth.
As if handing me a piece of my pride back, he continued, "Sweet P,
you never sell yourself for less than you're worth... and you never let
anyone tell you what you're worth. Had you insisted on your figure, I
would've given you what you asked for. You have to know your worth."
He walked away looking at me almost in pity and said that I would get
what I'd accepted.
Words will never adequately describe how angry I was at myself for not
knowing my worth. What was I worth? Did I know? How do I measure my worth?
How could I know? And what was so funny?
Personally, I have been through an onslaught of personal setbacks (from
my mothers cancer to being an unemployed single mom to being homeless).
Still there was always the vision of running my own business. Recently,
I sat and calculated my actual worth in dollars and cents. I based my
calculations on the work experience gained over the last 20 years, education,
life experiences, number of books I read per year (15-20), common sense,
ability to actually think (we don't get enough credit for this), increased
life expectancy, combined with my retirement age of 68. I broke it down
in decades and aggregated that over a period of 65 years. I will have
contributed $75-100 million in labor dollars to our society's economy
from the time I entered the labor force. So folks, given these statistics
I've decided to give myself a $1 million dollar raise starting this day
forward. For years I have been planning my work and working my plan.
Now it is time to allow the plan to work.
~ Passion Delanti now runs her own company, The Delanti Group,
Inc. and is finally capitalizing on her multi-million dollar worth.
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