Experience of a First Time Dramaturg

“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf” tells the story of seven women of color who find unity through the shared oppression of a racist and sexist society to form a sisterhood through stories of love, empowerment, struggle and loss. The play will be performed by the SUNY New Paltz theater department between February 28 and March 10, 2019 at McKenna Theater.

All stories edited and packaged by Katie Donlevy and Brandi Sutfin.

In her final semester at SUNY New Paltz, a theater student from Brooklyn, NY wanted to try something she had never done before: dramaturgy. Clarissa Mota has been performing on stage from a young age, but has recently traded in memorizing lines for researching them. This spring, Mota is serving as the dramaturg for the theater department’s upcoming performance of poet Ntozake Shange’s acclaimed choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” Combining poems, dance and music, the production illustrates stories about coming of age, heartbreak, sexual assault and redemption experienced by African American women. From checking out stacks of books from the library for research, showing up to every single rehearsal and answering any question thrown her way, Mota proves herself to be the driving force behind the play’s message and humbly acts as a guiding light to the performers.

Q: Explain to me, what is dramaturgy?

A: A dramaturg is an answer to a lot of the questions that happen during a production. I sort of help ease along the process of putting on a show. I gather resources for each actress in terms of background into the playwright and her life, and then any references for the show, such as music, colors, symbolism, themes and analysis. I took dramaturgy my first semester here, and it was this quote that really inspired me to pursue it: “if a show seemed seamless, it’s usually because of a dramaturg.” It’s beautiful because you can really fall down the rabbit hole a little bit.

Q: What prompted your shift from acting to dramaturgy?

A: I realized that as an actor you should be approaching things dramaturgically. I like research and ‘nerding out’, so dramaturgy speaks to me in a way. I can let myself get deep in it. Dramaturgy gives me the freedom to hyperfocus, with guidelines. I was inspired to try out dramaturgy for this play because, as a woman of color and an artist, this show spoke to me in a powerful way. I feel like it’s important to keep that community alive, to keep those voices alive in a way that was respectful to the women; that was so important to me.

“I’m going to come out of this process very much changed in a beautiful way.”

Q: How was your experience adapting such complex, heavy issues into this performance?

A: I think the beauty of what Ntozake Shange has written is that it explores the black woman experience. It’s also relatable to a myriad of others because almost everyone has experienced a moment of trial where they’ve felt at the end of their rope – questioning “Can I really get through this?” I think that what this show explores what those limits are and shows that there is healing afterwards.

Q: Do you have any fears about how some serious complex issues will come across like onstage?

A: I think the theater department does a really good with expressing to the audience when we have sensitive topics coming up in shows. These are issues we have to talk about and explore, especially considering the political climate that we’re in. I think it’s time to focus more on the women or the people that are affected rather than the perpetrators. I think we should start really taking care of the women.

Q: Is there any one poem from the play you really connected with?

A: I think my favorite poem is “A laying on of hands” because it’s where you see all the women collectively come together and heal each other. Recovery is hard and takes a long time, and we each take our own personal steps to healing. I think that what I love about this show is it boldly says, “ask for help when you need it.” Stand by your community – help yourself, help your sisters, help your brothers, help your colleagues, help your comrades.

Q: What would you like people to leave with after seeing the show?

A: What I love about this show is it says, ask for help when you need it. Stand by your community and help your sisters and brothers. You are not the only one. Be together with that and heal each other.

Q: In one sentence, how would describe this show?

A: I’m going to use a line from “A laying on of hands” if that’s okay: “I found God in myself and I loved her fiercely.”

Read more #ForColoredGirls features here:

Lani Volino pulls the strings and leads the show as she tries her hand as the Stage Production Manager.

Stefanie Workman plays the Lady in Brown, but is also responsible for elevating the magic and power of the show through her skills as a hair and makeup artist.

Tatiana Saintilus plays the Lady in Yellow, the brightest personality of the show and a character that required delving into the mind of to understand her naivety.

Ifeoma Ukatu appears as the Lady in Orange, a character that embodies Ntozake Shange’s creation of choreopoetry: dramatic expression that combines song, dance, poetry and music.

Deborah Crumbie plays the Lady in Red, a character she was able to identify with after finding parallels between herself and the onstage persona.

Clarissa Mota is the brains of the operation: the dramaturg. Mota is responsible for knowing background information, research and various knowledge of the show to assist all crew members put on an accurate production.

Emily Kimoto serves as the Assistant Stage Manager, assisting in backstage management to help run the show as smoothly as possible.

Emma Misiaszek and Shyana Fisher

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