Camille A. Brown has been dancing since she was four years old. She heads a dance company and is one of the most sought after choreographers of our generation. Still, when she was tapped to both choreograph and direct the revival of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, she was afraid.
“It was an umbrella of fear for many reasons,” Brown tells ESSENCE. “The fear was ‘Oh my gosh, I’m being asked to direct and choreograph for Broadway. It’s my Broadway debut. The stakes are the highest they’ve ever been. Everybody’s going to be watching. What do I do?’”
Thankfully, Brown was bolstered by friends and family who reminded her of her resume and the fact that she had been directing and choreographing for more than 15 years. They assured her that while she was bound to learn something new, she shouldn’t forget what she already knew. But Brown was also plagued by the history associated with for colored girls.
“This is a legacy piece,” Brown says. “Everybody knows it. You have people literally reciting lines in the theater while the actress is on stage delivering the poem. It’s over 40 years old. Even though it’s been 40 years since it has been on Broadway, within that time, it’s been a movie. There have been countless iterations of it. So my fear was ‘Well, what am I going to do? I don’t want to get this wrong. I don’t want to disappoint. I don’t want to do it the wrong way.’”
A friend told her that this revival was an offering and she shouldn’t think about it any other way.
“Once she helped me put it in that perspective,” Brown said, “It helped me get out of worrying about what other people were going to think and focus on ‘What do you want to say with this show?’”
for colored girls was initially set to debut in the fall of 2020. But COVID shut down Broadway entirely. But during the hiatus, Brown was able to get clear about what she wanted to contribute to Shange’s legacy.
“I really wanted to lean on the idea of a choreopoem. Ntozake is clearly saying that dance and text coexist. And so often people think that dance is distracting or just about steps. And dance, for me, is about storytelling. It’s always about storytelling. So what is my version of a choreopoem? What does that mean to me?”
In Brown’s revival, the seven women represent a different era. Instead of dancing to Martha and the Vandellas during the performance of graduation nite, the women groove to SWV’s “I’m So Into You.” Instead of dresses, they wear pants. And rom the top of the show until the very end, these women are moving. In this iteration of Shange’s work, Brown wanted to specifically highlight the resilience of Black women.
“We push through. Yes, there are obstacles. Yes, there are things that we struggle with as women, as Black women but we make it through. Also, how we began the show was very important for me as well. I didn’t want people to see us as victims. The first poem is dark phrases. It talks about a sense of being lost. It’s something I have felt at times. But I have to remind myself that we–Black women weren’t born in a state of confusion. We were born in a state of rhythm. We had our magic, we had our flyness. It’s the world that made us question who we are. So I wanted the world to know, I wanted Black women to know that the space is ours when we come on stage. It’s about the strength. Then of course, we go back and talk about the obstacles but we don’t start like that.”
It seems that Brown’s approach was the right one. for colored girls has been nominated for seven Tonys, including best choreography and best direction.
While Brown says you can’t have any expectations when it comes to awards, she is thrilled to know that the show is being acknowledged in this way.
“I’m happy that we are visible. We are seen,” Brown said. “We got heartbreaking news. We were told our closing date was moving up because we weren’t getting enough ticket sales. I’m hoping the visibility of these nominations encourages people to come out [especially] Black women because this is for us. This show is for us. It’s about telling the story of Black women.”
for colored girls who’ve considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf is running on Broadway at the Booth Theatre until Sunday, June 5.